Winehouse Biopic ‘Back to Black’ Puts Camera Where It Belongs

Marisa Abela captures the talent and vulnerability of late, great singer

It’s hard not to feel jaded by yet another musical biopic.

“Ray.” “Rocketman.” “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Bob Marley: One Love.” “Judy.” “Respect.” That’s a partial list, of course. What we really need is “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping 2.”

Along comes “Back to Black,” the tragic tale of Amy Winehouse’s rise and fall, and we greet it with arms tightly folded. Will she hear her song played on the radio for the first time? What about fights with management over her career’s trajectory?

“Back to Black” takes a different, more humane approach. The camera focuses on the doomed chanteuse, her colorful attitude and dark love life.

Yes, there’s music aplenty, and star Marisa Abela embodies the late singer as well as anyone likely could. The story rightly stays on the soul we lost too soon.

BACK TO BLACK - Official Trailer [HD] - Only In Theaters May 17

Abela’s Amy is a sweet young woman with a voice that belies her lithe frame. It’s a throwback to jazz singers of yore, throaty and echoing scabbed-over wounds. It’s her ticket to fame, but she’s less interested in the trappings that come along with it.

She’d like to fall in love first, which means she doesn’t mind hurting her business dealings if the approach doesn’t feel right.

What does? The way Blake (Jack O’Connell) makes her heart pound darn near clean out of her body. Their chemistry crackles, and suddenly a film with modest ambitions finds its pulse.

Their initial meeting is a corker, filled with sexual tension and souls colliding. O’Connell plays up Blake’s hunger and vulnerability. Amy’s heart is ripe for the taking.

These two are destined to be together, but their dueling addictions mean trouble. Someone is gonna get hurt.


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The business side of Amy, Inc. is mostly set aside, and the ravenous paparazzi also are defanged by the script. We see musical recreations, but they’re not the main attraction.

The great Eddie Marsan plays Papa Winehouse, a curious character who evolves from scene to scene. He’s a stern pappy one minute, an enabler the next. Amy’s beloved Nan (Leslie Manville) leaves a fiery impression but doesn’t factor enough into the story.

“Back to Black” doesn’t hide the seeds of the singer’s destruction. This isn’t Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” mind you. Winehouse’s addictions were highly advertised during her short life, and the screenplay has no interest in fudging the record.

“Back to Black” is neither insulting nor prophetic. We learn little new about the music industry, and we already know how this story ends. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson wants us to remember a damaged soul whose heart couldn’t beat back her growling addictions.

“Back to Black” won’t let us forget that.

HiT or Miss: “Back to Black” doesn’t reinvent the musical biopic. Instead, it reminds us of the soul behind all the hit songs.


  1. Correct review:
    This is a stupid film, glorifying a complete moron who literally should have “GONE TO REHAB”.

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