Review Round-Up: Amy

When you're a celebrity, people have a really, really hard time telling you "no."

 

 

Even when they really, really should.

 

This goes double when the celebrity in question is extremely talented and very, very successful, as Amy Winehouse was in her all-too-brief career. By the time she reached widespread notoriety in the mid-2000s, she was already headed towards a downward spiral of untreated depression and bulimia, coupled with powerful addictions. Making matters worse was when those around her — most notably, her father — took opportunities to capitalize on her dysfunction for their own gain, enabling the behavior that was destroying a life but filling a bank account.

 

 

This familiar but fascinating story is the thrust of Amy, the new documentary by filmmaker Asif Kapadia.  Just like its central character, Amy has already captivated audiences in screenings before its July 3rd release in the U.S., and the momentum keeps growing. With such dynamic (and tragic) subject matter, it would be hard to create a film that wouldn't be of interest to so many, but an important question is being raised by this film that seems to surface again and again whenever someone in the limelight leaves us far too early: how much responsibility, if any, do the media and paparazzi assume when it comes to the very public breakdown of a celebrity? And should those closest to them feel more pressure than they currently do to help maintain a healthy baseline of mental health? 

 

Let's take a look at what the critics are saying about Amy:

 

"Kapadia doesn't set out to glorify Winehouse in Amy or to excuse her poor decisions. Rather, he reveals a woman whose talent should be respected and mourned but who — caught up as she was in a downward spiral of drugs and depression — deserves pity as much as anything else. …Given that so few people around her apparently had the will or the strength of character to tell her no — not to mention the delicate nature of her psyche combined with the toxic nature of her environment — it almost feels as if her premature death was preordained. … That truth-first approach imbues Amy with a sense of honesty and an intimacy that contributes enormously to the film's emotional impact." — Mike Scott, NOLA.com

 

 

"What is clear, though, both through her father’s own words and the lyrics of the song Rehab, is that he was, for at least a while, a driving force behind keeping her on a lucrative concert tour and away from professional help. (No wonder Mitch, and the Winehouse family by extension, has noisily disowned the film.) 'I ain’t got the time / And if my Daddy thinks I’m fine…': for a while those were words to live by, and later, words to die by too. … In fact, the most merciless trick in Kapadia’s arsenal is the way in which his film slowly transforms Rehab from a familiar hit record into a self-destructive mantra." — Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

 

 

"…with its absence of guiding perspective and strictly linear rise-and-fall structure, the pic could be likened to an extended, abnormally intelligent episode of 'Behind the Music.' What elevates it from such territory is the access Kapadia has gained to private materials, including voicemails and disarming home video, astutely selected and seamlessly integrated by editor Chris King. …Even in its most despairing stretches, it’s the music that gives Amy air: While Kapadia includes sequences from shambolic concerts performed at the singer’s lowest ebb, there are as many a spellbinding instances of her voice emerging robustly from internal chaos." — Guy Lodge, Variety

 

"It’s this depiction of a rubber-necking feeding-frenzy that is perhaps this film’s most alarming element. …Yet as the documentary progresses, we move from personal footage through televised performance to the flashbulb glare of global surveillance. Montages of paparazzi mobs create a hellish portrait of life lived through a grubby lens, though Kapadia himself is not above using images clearly obtained while the singer was in a state of distress; I found myself looking away more than once….clips of Frankie Boyle, Jay Leno and even the genial Graham Norton joking about Winehouse’s deterioration serve as a stark reminder that going mad in public makes one the equivalent of a modern-day Bedlam inmate – fair game for ridicule by the chattering classes." — Mark Kermode, The Guardian


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