Back to Black Movie Review: Amy Winehouse Biopic Film Hits the Wrong Notes

Back to Black Stars Marisa Abela and Jack O’Connell and is Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

Review: Back to Black is mostly a misfire, and I lack the understanding for why it exists in the first place. Maybe to boost Amy Winehouse’s Spotify streams for a few months. But given that the movie failed to make a splash at the box office, and didn’t even see much of an extended run in theaters at all, I’d venture to guess that it didn’t even do that right.

marisa abela amy winehouse back to black movie 2024
Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse in Back to Black (2024)

Back to Black Review

It’s hard to pull much that is new and noteworthy about the life of Amy Winehouse in Back to Black, which aims to play all the hits without applying them to any meaningful plot. The movie passes by in fleeting moments and tumultuous collages, without a clear time or space to dig your feet in.

The issue is that we’ve already seen a reputable, groundbreaking Amy Winehouse film before – the Oscar-winning documentary Amy from 2015 – and that there isn’t much more to uncover without feeling as if they’re squeezing every last ounce out of this tragic life. But the music industry knows how to do just that better than any other industry, and it’s seeping into the biopic space to damaging results.

And there isn’t even much celebration of life in Back to Black, which opts for a moodier color and sonic palette, feeling as if Winehouse’s hazy battle with sobriety is transferring through the screen. There have been many attempts to over-dramatize the life of a wounded soul, but they always seem to crater when traversing through the history of a past celebrity.

Which is to say that Back to Black leans much closer to Blonde than to Fire Walk with Me. It’s easier to relate and empathize with the fictitious Laura Palmer because she isn’t famous and because the movie doesn’t have to spin real events to build a plot fit for the big screen. It’s what makes Fire Walk with Me so great, and what makes Blonde so infuriating and damning as a feature film. One feels empathetic, and the other feels opportunistic and self-indulgent – and frankly, slimy.

Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Back to Black has a lot of the same visual and tonal cues as Andrew Dominik’s Blonde – but just a tad less icky and gross. There’s some intentionality in the movie’s final few minutes, where Marisa Abela’s final moments on screen are some of the happiest she experiences in the runtime, and that the movie at the very least shies away from showing Winehouse’s death.

And the supporting cast does their best to elevate so-so material. Jack O’Connell co-stars as Amy Winehouse’s tumultuous partner Blake Fielder-Civil and plays both the strongman and abusive love interest to effective results. Eddie Marsan is Amy’s father Mitch, turning in one of the more empathetic roles I’ve seen from him.

Back to Black is a misfire, and I lack the understanding for why it exists in the first place. Maybe to boost Amy Winehouse’s Spotify streams for a few months. But given that the movie failed to make a splash at the box office, and didn’t even see much of an extended run in theaters at all, I’d venture to guess that it didn’t even do that right.

Rating: 2/5

Genre: Drama, History, Musical

Watch Back in Black on Peacock

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Back to Black Film Cast and Credits

back to black movie poster 2024

Back to Black Cast

Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse

Jack O’Connell as Blake Fielder-Civil

Eddie Marsan as Mitch Winehouse

Lesley Manville as Cynthia Winehouse

Back to Black Credits

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Writer: Matt Greenhalgh

Cinematography: Polly Morgan

Editor: Martin Walsh

Composers: Nick CaveWarren Ellis

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