Asif Kapadia’s Amy is a beautiful film. The problem with Amy Winehouse’s music being so powerful, raw and intoxicating is that it almost romanticises the horror of addiction. Almost, but not quite. The film has been shown on TV now, but I gave the film to my fourteen year old daughter when it came out on DVD. If ever there was an example of someone brilliantly talented, loved up and having an ace time on drugs and alcohol…at first, it’s this. The film’s ending leaves you floored even though you know it’s coming, and leaves you in no doubt about the destruction caused by addiction.
Addicts make terrible friends. They are nigh on impossible to maintain any kind of functioning relationship with and this is shown with a striking simplicity through Amy’s real friends – the ones she had from childhood. The ones who knew the real Amy who acted silly at parties and licked friends’ faces to gross them out. This scene, at the very start of the film, reminded me so much of my own daughter and her friends (all clever, wonderful and hilarious just like fourteen year old Amy and her group of friends) that I don’t think it will ever leave me. How did that brilliant young woman destroy herself so brutally? Her friend Juliette’s voice breaks as she explains how she told Amy, as she headed towards her lowest point, that whilst she loved her, she could no longer be around her whilst she was in that pit of self-destruction. There are moments like this throughout the film: people around an addict trying to carry on with their everyday lives and to love their friend as they always have, unable to comprehend the draw of something as sly, pervasive and damaging as (in Amy’s case) alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine. As a friend, you realise that maintaining the friendship easily slides into enabling, and if the addict is reluctant to seek help, cutting ties becomes the only realistic, albeit heartbreaking, option.
Her husband is painted as the villain of the piece –seeing Amy as a cash cow and giving her heroin when she is in hospital having collapsed from an accidental overdose. But he too is an addict, and addicts do horrible things.
Mitch Winehouse is angry about the way he comes across in this film and it’s not difficult to see why. Worshipped by his daughter, he admits to an affair when she was little, being a coward for staying with his wife, ignoring her bulimia (“it was a phase”), enjoying the spotlight that came with being related to Amy, pushing her into performing when she was clearly in no fit state…the list goes on. But no one gives you a book on how to deal with your addicted daughter who thinks you’re doing a fantastic job as her dad. It is once again Amy’s friends who explain that, having stolen her passport to try and prevent her being taken away to perform, Amy’s management told them to stop worrying, because many, many rich and famous people function perfectly well on heroin. When the people “in the know” are bombarding you with this information, how easy would it be to maintain your own real-world common sense? That said, Amy’s friends did. I hope they know how wonderful they are.
Tony Bennett, of whom Winehouse is in innocent and bewildered awe as they duet, is given the closing lines of narration, saying that had she lived, he’d have told her that “life teaches you how to live it – if you live long enough.” It’s a poignant touch, juxtaposed with the body bag carrying her from her house into the ambulance.
Amy is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
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