In the last few years, we have seen a sudden resurgence of music biopics. Besides a couple of exceptions, they follow a rudimentary rise-and-fall arc in the said artist’s life. At times, they share just a surface-level understanding and known details of these artists and only capitalize on the popularity of their music. That’s why the likes of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the recent “Bob Marley: One Love” were not well received by the critics. Both suffered from poor representation of these artists in their own ways. “Back to Black” suffers from a mix of these reasons.

The film is titled after Amy’s critically acclaimed studio album that went on to win a Grammy over the contemporary industry heavyweights. It revolves around a specific time period in Amy’s life when she was just stepping into her early adulthood. She grew up loving music, especially Jazz. It reflects in her work. Knowing her singing and performance skills, some men expected her to be someone like the Spice Girls. But she refused to be put in the defined boxes of girl power and developed her own style inspired by the likes of Lauryn Hill.

Being candid in her songs earned her admirers. However, it also affected her personal life. In the early days of her fame, she met Blake Fielder-Civil and fell head over heels for him. He became her muse through songs that expressed love, sorrow, pain, and heartbreak. Over the years, Amy and Blake kept breaking in and out of their romantic, creative, and financial relationship. This pushed her to the side of demons, resulting in her deep emotional pain.

The film portrays how Amy did most things in her life with passion dialed to 11. She was never the one who shied away from expressing herself. This gave her a dedicated fanbase that still admires her emotionally raw, soul-crushing work, and rightfully so. However, she experienced her career in the public limelight. The tabloids were more invested in sharing sensationalized stories than talking about her art, which resulted in her heavily documented, chaotic downfall.

Back to Black (2024) Movie Review
A still from “Back to Black” (2024)

At the same time, the film fails to evoke any genuine emotion. Beyond cursory details, it doesn’t dig any deeper into Amy’s psyche, her socio-political stance, or her musical inspirations. It occasionally name-drops some artists. But it is disproportionately invested in its poorly written romance arc. That’s why it often fails to make us feel the things that Amy’s music intended for us to feel. It doesn’t even seem as intrigued about the aspects that earned her admirers across the globe.

The script focuses on just showing the events in her life rather than exploring the reasons behind them. Even when it attempts to find the ‘why’, it uses a cause-and-effect formula without doing enough due diligence. In one scene, Amy’s movie version says, ‘Music is my rehab.’ As a viewer, I understand it’s the subtext. But as dialogue, it feels needless and purely performative.

Of course, Marisa Abela is convincing in the role of Amy Winehouse and nails Amy’s mannerisms and manner of speech. She doesn’t let her performance turn into another imitation by finding a soulful note. More importantly, she finds a striking balance between Amy’s fierce, unapologetic persona tinged by her demons. However, the script is so by-the-numbers and soulless that she can only do so much to maintain the emotional gravitas.

“Back to Black” isn’t a hagiography. However, it uses the known tragic arc of Amy’s musical career to create only a serviceable film. For most of its duration, it makes you wonder what the need was to make this biopic in the first place – especially when Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy” exists, which is a much deeper exploration of things that “Back to Black” the film isn’t. Occasionally, it feels like those vanity projects artists produce by themselves. In the case of Amy, it isn’t even required. Those who admire her and her music will keep doing so due to their obvious merit. However, you leave the film thinking she deserved far better than this lackluster biopic.

Read More: Bob Marley: One Love (2024) Movie Review: A Disinterested Biopic with a Myopic View of its Subject

Back to Black (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
Back to Black (2024) Movie Cast: Marisa Abela, Jack O’Connell, Eddie Marsan, Lesley Manville
Back to Black (2024) Movie Genre: Biography/Drama/Music | Runtime: 2h 2m
Where to watch Back to Black

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