Biopics of musicians have become about as by-the-numbers as they get these days, only a few in recent memory truly standing out from the crowd; Rocketman and Elvis. Sam Taylor-Johnson tries her hand at making a film about Amy Winehouse with Back to Black, and the results are unfortunately not a good example of how to go about making a great biopic.

Singer Amy Winehouse's (Marisa Abela) tumultuous relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O'Connell) inspires her to write and record the ground-breaking album Back to Black. 
Back to Black is unfortunately a film that feels rather flat throughout, Matt Greenhalgh's screenplay taking a basic approach in telling the story of a flawed artist. I get this is not a documentary - the aptly titled Amy being a film you should seek out if you want to see her life explored - however, the film never feels interested in being more than a run through her Wikipedia page. It moves at quite a pace through what feel like truly formative moments, almost as if it's in a rush to showcase her most vulnerable years, in a way that just feels so distasteful and unwarranted.

Save for a few moments to savour, Sam Taylor-Johnson fails to stamp any form of identity on the film. One montage set to the titular Back to Black is a true highlight, Amy's character coming to the fore as a reaction to her relationship breaking down, yet it's a decent moment in a film lacking the quality it needs to justify its existence. There's a dark side to the fame depicted here that comes across as more of a joke if anything - pleas from her management team to go to rehab almost laughed off by her father and the paparazzi swarming her at every opportunity something that could have been delivered in a much better manner than the goofy way it was dealt with here. Now, they may have brushed off the pleas to go to rehab but the film delivers it in such a jarringly comedic manner that adds to the distastefulness of it all.
The saving grace of the film is Marisa Abela's performance as Amy Winehouse. It's very much one of those performances where you take a step back and feel she deserves a better film surrounding her. The danger in a biopic is to just slip into an impersonation of the subject but Abela does a great job in avoiding that trap, her singing mightily impressive to boot. The rest of the cast don't really add anything to proceedings, even the usually reliable likes of Eddie Marsan as Amy's father and Jack O'Connell as her on-off boyfriend-then-husband, Blake. A major disappointment as the two nearly always make a film better.

Back to Black doesn't feel like the celebration of an artist and her music, instead feeling more like a film made where they couldn't wait to depict the downward spiral in her life. Amy Winehouse tragically died far too young and if this is the best they could honestly come up with, why even bother in the first place?

Verdict: ★★


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