The Oscar-winning documentary Amy, recounting the life and short musical career of Amy Winehouse, wowing audiences with its honest and haunting illustration of Amy’s struggle with drugs, alcohol, and finding happiness.
The film opens in a painfully ironic way, with home video footage of a young Amy singing “Happy Birthday,” in her jazzy, powerful voice. The scene lingers eerily and the next two hours of footage are anything but happy.
The film premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May of 2015; it was an instant success but was not free from criticism.
Her Early Life
Some questioned the accuracy of the depiction of Amy’s relationship with her father, Mitch. Her father’s influence in her life became the foundation of the film when Amy admitted, from a pre-recorded interview, that during her childhood, her father lacked the guidance she needed as a youth.
At 18 years old she was taking the prescription anti-depressant medication “seroxat” to help with the issues of emotion and depression she felt at such a young age, though most were skeptical of her need of the drug. Amy’s voice layered over a section of the film stated:
Among her emotional concerns, she also dealt with self-image problems that ultimately turned into a serious eating disorder. At the time she would joke around with her family saying she was on a diet where she ate what she wanted, then just threw it up. Her mom overlooked these jokes, but the habit molded into major health concerns.
While dealing with depression, music became her outlet. It was as if music was the love of her life and her only consistent lover. She began her career humbly, but her old soul and charisma was irresistible and she began to climb to the top.
When her music career really began to take off, she moved to Camden, England and proudly bragged of buying her first home. In the film she shares how excited she was to have friends over, smoke all the pot she wanted, and do things her way.
According to friends and her mom, once she moved, things started to change. Despite her dangerous drinking habits and her, now obvious, struggle with bulimia, her music career showed more promise than ever before.
An important crux of the film is Amy’s relationship with Blake Fielder. Fielder commented on his tumultuous relationship with Amy throughout the film. Their relationship was implied to have been established upon mutual pain and understanding of life’s sorrows.
Fielder shared that Amy attributed her promiscuity and unhealthy relationships to her dad leaving her mom at a young age. Fielder had his own problems and admitted to a sad childhood:
It was with Fielder, after they married, that Amy first tried crack cocaine:
Her life with Fielder led to her first overdose of heroin and alcohol, and ultimately a tragic spiral downward after Fielder was put in prison. The film did an excellent job of not just showing the toxicity of drugs, but of detrimental relationships and how the two fed off of one another’s dysfunction.
The Struggle for Help
The documentary did more than discuss Amy’s catastrophic relationships; it showed the shocking footage of concerts and interviews where she clearly was not in her right mind. Footage of her performing showed her repeatedly slapping herself or staring into the distance with hazy eyes.
Amy refused to go to rehabilitation for her alcoholism, her eating disorder, and her drug abuse until her loved ones and producers threatened to take away her first and truest love: music. The threat to cancel her tours shook her into action and she agreed to get clean.
After she came back from rehab, the film focuses on a short period of peace in her life. She won a Grammy and, in the film, Amy’s eyes widen as if it was a dream come true. Then the voice of her friend, Juliette Ashby, is heard. Ashby recounts Amy pulling her onto the stage. The video shows Amy sitting on the stage, looking uninterested as Ashby shares a backstage moment where Amy told her:
“This is so boring without drugs.”
The period of peace was short as the paparazzi became relentless and Amy became the brunt of the joke in many comedian acts and talk shows. The film shows footage of her withering away with her appearance becoming increasingly worn. The film ends with Ashby recalling her last conversation with Amy.
The film is haunting and sure to upset some, and rightfully so. The message is powerful and calls for action. The Oscar winner deserved the prize for not only showing the emotional and psychological side of drug addiction and substance abuse, but also how society and Amy’s community played a part in her demise. It highlights the fact that an addict is not made over night and drives home the message that once they are gone, there is no coming back without a complete overhaul.