Star Rating:

Back To Black

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Actors: Marisa Abela, Eddie Marsan., Jack O'Connell

Release Date: Friday 12th April 2024

Genre(s): Biopic, Drama, Music

Running time: 122 minutes

As her career begins to flourish, Amy Winehouse (Marisa Abela) finds her love life and romance with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O'Connell) intertwining with her creativity. As their toxic dependency begins to shape her life, her father Mitch (Eddie Marsan) and her grandmother Cynthia (Lesley Manville) become concerned as the pressure of celebrity and the intrusion of paparazzi grows...

If there's one thing 'Back To Black' absolutely gets right, in spite of many issues, it's how Amy Winehouse was able to channel her anguish and grief so effectively into her music - and how she had to live her songs, as well as sing them. Much discourse has already circulated about Marisa Abela's voice and performance based on clips and trailers, but in the full extent of 'Back To Black', it's difficult to find fault with what is ultimately a thankless role. Amy Winehouse was a singular voice and talent and such a powerful force of nature that it's probably impossible to come within striking distance of it. That said, there are moments - brief glimmers of it - throughout 'Back To Black'. Abela is able to show the raucous energy that made Winehouse a star with the vulnerability that plagued her, and it makes for some of the most powerful beats in the movie.

Frustratingly, 'Back To Black' refuses to condemn anyone in the story of Amy Winehouse and her untimely passing, other than the media and the paparazzi. Jack O'Connell portrays Blake Fielder-Civil as a roguish charmer and free spirit, as sympathetically as one possibly could. Equally, Eddie Marsan gives Mitch Winehouse the benefit of the doubt and plays him as a doting father, distantly worried but ultimately giving his daughter the discretion to make her own choices. Lesley Manville, who plays Winehouse's paternal grandmother Cynthia Levy, has an undeniable warmth that buoys the movie through its early chapters before the clouds begin to form.

As a director, Sam Taylor-Johnson has always been decidedly unremarkable. 'Nowhere Boy' was lifted by Aaron Taylor-Johnson's winning performance, while 'Fifty Shades of Grey' was a flat and uninteresting mess that somehow became a box office blast which flogged its stars to ribbons for another two movies. If 'Back To Black' was in the hands of a more adventurous director, and its script was willing to push the boat out instead of being terrified of offending anyone, there might be something here. Instead, 'Back To Black' is less the sum of its parts. It's far too bland, far too obsequious, and nowhere near as thrilling or as vital as the songs it features.

Far too often, 'Back To Black' ticks through every musical biopic cliché with not even a hint of awareness. On numerous occasions, Abela's Winehouse snaps that she doesn't care about fame or money, and flips off her managers and record labels. There's the triumphant award show moment, the pensive interview, and the binge and boozing montages set to washed out soundtracks. It's all so competent and so predictable that by the time the credits roll around, any kind of compelling emotion feels like it's wrung out of the thing. The whole thing has the feeling of being stage-managed, which isn't surprising seeing as Mitch Winehouse has enthusiastically backed this movie over 'Amy', Asif Kapadia's blistering documentary from 2015. There may yet be a great movie made out of the life and times of Amy Winehouse, but it's not this.