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Back to Black is an out of tune biopic


Director Sam Taylor Johnson, a seasoned veteran in the musical biopic genre, brings her expertise to her fifth feature film, 'Back to Black,' a production by Focus Features. The screenplay, crafted by Matt Greenhalgh, delves into the life of the iconic Amy Winehouse. What sets this film apart is the casting —a newcomer, Maria Abela, takes on the challenging role of Winehouse, while the familiar faces of Eddie Marsan and Jack O'Connell portray her father Mitch and husband Blake.


One of my favorite film genres is the musical biopic. Since Amy's passing, numerous filmmakers have tried to bring Winehouse's story to the big screen, but per the norm, the film would get stuck in development hell. Finally, in 2018, the estate signed a deal, and the film has arrived. On the one hand, since I know someone in Amy's circle and regularly performed with her, knowing he wasn't contacted to give some feedback still rubs me the wrong way. However, I still walked into the film with an open mind.


The filmmakers made a bold choice in selecting a relatively unknown actress to portray Winehouse. Initially, Noomi Rapace, known for her role in the Millennium series, was attached to portray Winehouse. However, Marisa Abela's stellar performance proved to be a breakthrough. Rather than opting for lip-syncing to Winehouse's original vocals, Abela showcases her own singing talent in the film, adding an extra layer of authenticity. Her portrayal of Amy is convincing, allowing the audience to see her as more than just a character from 'Industry'.


Sadly, the rest of the film is a waste and an insult to Winehouse's legacy. For starters, neither Mark Ronson nor Salaam Remi are portrayed in the movie, and as music fans will tell you, both men were integral parts of her breakthrough US album. Now, I didn't expect to see an actor portraying Jay-Z in the booth recreating the "Rehab" remix or archive footage of Nas recording "Cherry Wine," but to omit both Ronson and Remi is the equivalent of just drooping Berry Gordy in the upcoming MJ biopic.


The two pivotal men in Amy's life are also wasted. The usually reliable Eddie Marsan reeks of "I'm only here for a check" as Mitch Winehouse. He pops in and out of scenes, which creates a non-cohesive narrative. Jack O'Connell doesn't fare much better as Blake, with the script turning the character into a low rent "BDE lothario" whom Amy couldn't quit. Fans know that when Winehouse passes, she has found happiness with Reg Traviss, and Blake is an afterthought.


In the context of the musical biopic "Back to Black," the film minimizes the significance of music. With the exception of a performance of "Rehab" in the third act, there are no other notable musical highlights. The purported sincerity of "Back to Black" only accentuates its numerous shortcomings.


While the individuals associated with the film profess deep admiration and reverence for the deceased artist, their lack of tact and misguided sense of obligation do not effectively honor her legacy. 


Final Grade: D+


"Back to Black" opens in theaters tomorrow.

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