[Courtesy of Focus Features]

Movie Review: Back to Black

07:00 May 21, 2024
By: Fritz Esker

Back to Black (2024)

Singer Amy Winehouse died at the height of her fame from a combination of alcohol poisoning and bulimia at the age of 27. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson tells the story of her music career in the dreary biopic Back to Black.

Winehouse (Marisa Abela) was a working-class London girl who became a sensation in England and, eventually, America. But she also had alcohol and drug problems (her biggest hit was "Rehab"), as well as dysfunctional relationships with her father (Eddie Marsan) and her husband (Jack O'Connell).

While biopics are certainly a popular genre these days, the problem is not every famous person or talented artist has a life story that makes for compelling cinema. Winehouse's story is essentially a gifted but self-destructive person drinking themselves to death. The 2015 documentary Amy received a lot of praise from critics but suffered from the same problems. Do you want to spend two hours watching someone kill themselves in slow motion?

This kind of problem happens in other biopics, too. The second half of Elvis is often a slog because it's Elvis destroying himself. That film, however, still had Baz Luhrmann's filmmaking pizzazz to liven things up. Here, the directing and the storytelling are very rote and by-the-numbers. No new insights are offered on Winehouse's psychology.

The best part of the film is Lesley Manville's performance as Winehouse's grandmother, the one person Winehouse had something resembling a healthy relationship with. Those scenes have a depth and humanity to them that the rest of the film lacks.

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