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Home > ‘Back to Black’ (2024): A Review

‘Back to Black’ (2024): A Review

‘Back to Black’ (2024): A Review

The Rise and Eventual Fall of the Late, Great Amy Winehouse

Back to Black had an opportunity to accurately portray the late, great Amy Winehouse. It was a daunting leap of faith, and unfortunately, the Focus Features biopic didn’t live up to its potential. Instead of leading the plot with her career, the driving force of the story was Amy’s ill-fated romance with her former husband. The only points that salvaged the film were Amy’s music being put on display and the cast’s individual performances.

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and written by Matt Greenhalgh, Back to Black introduces audiences to Amy’s (Marisa Abela) upbringing. Coming from a supportive and musical Jewish family, the London native draws inspiration for songwriting from her relationships, especially her on-and-off toxic romance with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell). As she grapples with her rise to fame, Amy struggles with alcoholism, bulimia, and the unwanted attention that comes with stardom. As she learns more about herself, Amy makes history with her music and her sharp, confident, and unapologetic personality. 

Even if a viewer doesn’t know Amy’s life story, they know how the film ends. But everything that happened before her death cemented the Grammy winner’s mark on jazz music. The problem with this film is that it tells a diluted version of her story, even though the tragedy of Winehouse was delivered beautifully by Abela on screen. 

A Plot Led by a Toxic Love Story  

From the start, audiences meet a teenage Amy, who is apparently looking for her next love. Viewers see Abela’s Amy wretchedly bored with a boyfriend, but her boredom apparently inspires her first big hit as she says one of the most important lines that was used to market the movie: “I don’t bang out 10 hits by lunch, I need to live my songs.” 

After signing with Island Records, Amy doesn’t stop her smart mouth — she tells off her label, hooks up with whomever she wants (as it’s implied when her dad, Mitch Winehouse, asks his daughter who the “bloke” is that just left her house), and above all, she writes her songs based on what happens to her. Abela’s Amy is intoxicatingly interesting, as she isn’t afraid to stand her ground, but something changes when the audience meets Blake. 

Back to Black portrays an Amy who is infatuated with Blake; she can’t stop thinking about him, and she pursues him no matter what stands in their way of being together. Moreover, she literally runs after him. While love is one of the most intriguing storylines to watch, viewers see an Amy who is only inspired by her love for Blake, or so it seems on screen. This version of Amy is almost two-dimensional because of how limited she is to one person. Although Amy’s real-life relationship with Blake needed to be included, it was only a part of her full life. 

The film could have gone further into detail with several subplots, starting with Amy’s band. Her three backup singers are only on screen for several minutes throughout the two-hour movie. How was her rehearsal process with them? Were they involved in her songwriting? How did they choreograph their iconic performances? These are all questions that could have been answered on screen if a few more minutes were set aside to delve deeper into Amy’s music. After all, she says in the movie, “I don’t write songs to be famous. I write songs ‘cause I’ve got to make something good out of something bad.”

Another improvement could have been a focus on Amy’s journey to her Grammy win. How did she react to her nomination? How did she rehearse for the Grammys performance? What were other artists and people saying about her at that time in her career? 

Perhaps the most important part of this film — which was exceptionally delivered — was Amy’s relationship with her family. There was a justifiable balance between the Winehouse family and Amy’s relationship with Blake throughout the film. Her close bond with her dad, Mitch, (Eddie Marsan), and her grandmother, Cynthia (Lesley Manville), were two of the most vital relationships in the movie. It would have been refreshing, therefore, if Back to Black revealed whether or not Amy’s hit album, Back to Black, was inspired at all by the loss of her grandmother. It’s refreshing to see that heartbreaking final parting between Amy and Cynthia. So, how did that loss affect Amy in the long run? Was her legacy connected at all to her late grandmother? 

Dedicated & Accurate Performances

The one element that saves this film are the performances. Abela did everything she could to pay tribute to the “Rehab” artist — and she didn’t even have prior vocal experience. The actress’ impressive delivery of Amy’s wit, drawl, mannerisms, and expressions is truly astonishing. Although no portrayal of a late artist is ever perfect, Abela deserves recognition for her dedicated performance. She took the script and dove right into Amy’s psyche. She ensured that Amy was portrayed as accurately as humanly possible. Resurrecting one of the greatest musicians in history is a terrifying task, but Abela did it with grace and respect. It’s heartwarming to watch how Abela begins her version of Amy and concludes it. Running around with that huge set of jet black hair was probably a difficult venture, but she executes it with a similar grit that Amy had.

The rest of the cast also stepped up to the plate ready to swing. O’Connell made sure that Blake was more than just a drug-addicted on-and-off lover; he gave audiences a three-dimensional version of him, proving that there was more than just one side to the person whom Amy married and divorced. 

Marsan’s Mitch is everything that a dad should be: caring, protective, and truthful. It’s clear that the actor approached his character with precision and care, as Mitch was a huge part of Amy’s life and her legacy thereafter. One of the most heartwarming moments in the film is even shown in the trailer: Mitch driving his cab and telling a customer upon seeing a poster of Amy, “That’s my daughter. That’s my Amy.” 

As for Manville’s Cynthia, the actress and Abela were the perfect scene partners in multiple moments throughout the film. Their best one, though, was their final scene together. Viewers can’t help but know the inevitable is approaching, and this scene tugs at heartstrings because of Manville and Abela’s on-screen balance.  

A Strong Musical Focus

Some biopics are afraid to thoroughly showcase the artist’s music. Some films even gloss over a musician’s work because they weren’t the biggest hits from their careers. But Back to Black fearlessly plays most of Amy’s songs. It’s essential to hear the music from the early days of her career, and watching Abela’s Amy perform from the beginning of the movie to the end educates audiences who this musician was and how she influenced the industry. 

Some scenes are slow because of the focus on Amy’s songs, but this is arguably a safety net for the movie. After all, the basis of Amy’s career was her music. How could the biopic not put her songs on a pedestal? It would have been a crime not to show Abela’s Amy tearfully recording “Back to Black” in the studio, or quietly — and slowly – writing “What Is It About Men” on her bed at home. If these weren’t shown in full length, the film would have tanked from its toxic love story arc. 

All in all, since the film is called Back to Black, it could have explored Amy’s journey of making that album. The movie marketed itself with the slogan, “Witness the love story that inspired one of the greatest albums of all time.” So, the Blake and Amy romance was necessary to portray, but a love story usually involves two individuals. There could have been more details from Amy’s personal life away from Blake. It likely was not possible to show the several interventions that Amy had with her family, but the film shouldn’t have skipped over all of them.

Back To Black (2024) Official Focus Features Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Author

Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration.  Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.