A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Amy is a no-holds-barred documentary about singer Amy Winehouse's impressive ascent and tragic end. As such, it's quite frank in its approach, with plenty of scenes showing Winehouse at her peak (singing for a friend as a teenager, that signature voice unmistakable), as well as at some of her most challenging and perhaps saddest moments: tweaking onstage as if she can't wait for her next fix, nodding off drunk, being hounded by the paparazzi. It's probably best for mature teens and adults who can better process what the singer appears to have gone through -- the pressures of fame, the pain of deep family dysfunction, an unhealthy relationship. Expect scenes in which Winehouse shows off her drug stash, drinks to oblivion, and is fondled by her husband. There's lots of swearing, too, including "s--t" and "f--k."
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What's the story?
By the time the news hit in July 2011 that Amy Winehouse had died in her London home, the world had already grown inured to reports of her drug and alcohol abuse. But what most of us didn't know is how she got there and who she was underneath the drug- and alcohol-addled haze. AMY introduces us to Winehouse as a teen at a friend's birthday party, already singing "Happy Birthday" much more interestingly and, yes, beautifully than the rest of her peers. From that first scene, her story unfurls, told through footage filmed by Winehouse and her friends, as well as by the press, and featuring interviews with the many people who knew her, including those who may have caused so much of the pain of which she sang.
Is it any good?
If you only knew Winehouse as the punchline of many comedians' jokes about drugs, alcohol ,and excess, Amy will make you remember all of those bits with discomfort. And if Winehouse's deep, resonant voice haunts you every time you listen to one of her songs, Amy will do so threefold. The British singer's voice is everywhere in this powerful documentary -- speaking brashly to talk show hosts, flirtatiously to lovers, petulantly to her father, and painfully and truthfully to some of her friends. And when she sings, which she does frequently (although very rarely completely, as songs are cut off midway for storytelling), we're reminded of how important a musician the world lost; she was a monumental talent. In a way, she tells her own story, with director Asif Kapadia relying on old footage of Winehouse with pals and in interviews (as well as hounded by the paparazzi) to show viewers who she was. Like her music, the film is unapologetically honest, perhaps even dwelling a little too much on the sadness that clung to the singer and the demons that eventually destroyed her. We almost feel bad about looking, as if rubber-necking at a car accident scene.
But Amy also does a brilliant job of showing how much Winehouse meant to those who really knew her: her girlhood best friends, her former roommates, her first manager, her last bodyguard. To many, she was more than the memorable voice -- and certainly more than her frailties. Kapadia is able to fashion a textured portrait that doesn't shy away from harsh truths but also manages to make the iconic singer far more than the sum of the thousands of tabloid headlines written about her. Amy Winehouse was gifted. Amy Winehouse was troubled. Amy Winehouse was tempestuous and loyal and giving and frustrating. She was a complicated human being, and Amy's biggest feat is driving that message home to viewers who may have written her off as yet another strung-out musician.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what they knew about Amy Winehouse before this film: How did the press paint her in the early days of her success, at its peak, and right before her death? How accurate do you think that portrayal was? What influence did the media have on her career and her personal life?
Do you think Amy is a fair depiction of Winehouse as a multi-dimensional person? Do documentaries have to objective? Why or why not?
How does the movie portray drinking and drug use? Are they glamorized at all? Are there realistic consequences? How did substance use impact Winehouse?
- In theaters: July 3, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: December 1, 2015
- Cast: Amy Winehouse
- Director: Asif Kapadia
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and drug material
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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