Creating a documentary has to be one of the hardest stories to tell because you need to recreate the full life of a person who you may know little about before gathering information. A good documentary about a person’s life is not only detailed, but also portrays the individuals personality and emotional complexities in a way that makes it feel like we are hearing their life story through the individual’s own words rather than through a camera medium. If someone told you to tell the story of your own life, how would you tell it? I don’t know about all of you, but for me, that has to be one of the most difficult questions to answer. What aspects of my life do I want to include, which people, which hobbies, which emotions, and what should the overall tone of my life be? It’s a question that would take a lot of personal reflection for me to answer; it becomes even more difficult when you take that question and apply to a life that isn’t your own. The challenge of creating an unbiased, informative, and realistic portrayal of a person’s life is daunting to say the least. Luckily, when all the pieces work together, the end result is usually a masterpiece.
“Amy” already checked two boxes off on the way to being a great documentary: able filmmakers and an intriguing subject. There is no debate that Amy Winehouse was one of the most controversial music sensations the world has ever seen. She was the bad girl that did what she wanted, when she wanted, and was able to get away with it because of the seemingly limitless amounts of musical potential she possessed. I was never big into Amy Winehouse until I went abroad and one of my roommates on the trip was obsessed with her. Because of him, I started listening to her music and found it utterly engrossing and brilliant. This documentary can be described using the same characteristics. There are so many things done well from broad scale storytelling to the little details, such as displaying her song lyrics on screen in conjunction with the aspect of her life that the lyrics pertain to. Amy Winehouse had a hectic life that held more emotional and dramatic depth than most people’s daily routines would hold. The filmmakers were able to caption the raw emotion of her personality, music, and lifestyle in a hauntingly realistic portrayal that presents the singer/songwriter in a nonbiased light. She is neither praised nor criticized for the way that she lived her life or the decisions she made. Instead, the film simply tries to answer the question of “what was the life of Amy Winehouse like?” And it answers that question with such depressing bliss and painful realism that it becomes as entertaining and engrossing as it is difficult to watch. Seeing the talented young singer with so much potential fall down into this never-ending spiral of self-destruction is one of the most difficult viewings I have ever experienced.
This is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a while, and ranks right up there with “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “Senna,” and “Undefeated” as one of my favorite documentaries of recent years. This is a masterpiece of a movie about a masterpiece of a musician that should go down as required viewing for not only any fan of Amy Winehouse’s music, but for all fans of music in general. The main thought I had when I left the theater a thought of wonder about how much this young musician could have achieved had she lived longer. The “27 club” gained another astounding musician to join the ranks of Jimi Hendricks, Kurt Kobain, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison to name a few. Listening to “Back to Black” will never be the same after watching this overall perfect documentary.
Amy (2015): 4/4 stars