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FILMSLIDESHOW

New Amy Winehouse Documentary is The Honest and Heartfelt Cinematic Eulogy She Deserves

One of the year's best, not to mention saddest, movies so far, this must-see documentary brings you intimately closer to a lost talent the world never really understood.

A burnout. A drug addict who wasted her talent. A freakishly great singer who sported a beehive hairdo and gave awkward, often uncomfortable interviews in which she was clearly high and/or drunk.

Those are the ways in which most people saw, and still see, Amy Winehouse, the critically beloved jazz/soul singer who died from alcohol intoxication in 2011, at the age of 27.

Those perceptions are all wrong.

In his heartbreaking and exceptional documentary Amy, filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Senna) does right by Winehouse, dispelling the English crooner's posthumous reputation by capturing the real woman behind the media’s skewed perspectives. With the help of Winehouse’s family members and closest friends, Kapadia wrangled together a surplus of never-before-seen footage, mostly shot on phones and camcorders, of the singer's life starting when she was 18 and following her all the way through her tumultuous career, including the recording sessions behind her U.K. breakthrough album Frank (2003) and the star-making worldwide chart-topper Back To Black (2006). Winehouse’s parents, best friends, former managers and bodyguards, not to mention collaborator/admirer Tony Bennett, recount their experiences with her through voiceover, but they’re never seen outside of the home video footage and personal photographs. Amy stays focused on Winehouse, both visually and subject-wise.

Kapadia’s dedication to presenting the real woman behind the celebrity lends Amy a strikingly revelatory edge. Before intoxicants and depression have pushed her off the deep end (and Kapadia doesn’t pull back from showing her with drugs and looking physically ragged), Amy's Winehouse—meaning, the real Winehouse—is charming, bubbly and can light up rooms with her smile and sense of humor. She's everybody's friend and nobody's target. As her fame builds, though, her inability to cope with the attention, interviewers' recorders and flashing lights gradually destroys her. A couple of negative influences in her life add to the devastation: her father, Mitchell, a fame-chaser who at one point can be heard saying she "doesn’t need rehab" when she so clearly does and later shows up to her post-overdose rehab with reality TV show cameras, and Blake Fielder-Civil, the pseudo-rocker she desperately loved but who enjoyed milking her financial success and sticking narcotics in her face more than looking out for her well-being.

In its final half-hour, Amy turns overwhelmingly sad. You helplessly watch an amazingly talented young woman slip away from the addictions she can’t fight alone, her hands figuratively reaching out for help but constantly getting batted away by paparazzi cameras, late-night talk show hosts' jokes and the rest of pop culture’s aloof insensitivity. When she dies, it’s all the more upsetting to hear Winehouse’s inner circle mourn the loss of the radiant but delicate and ultimately self-destructive loved one. They’d known the real Winehouse for 27 years; sadly, Amy's audience only gets to know that person for the film’s two-hour duration.

The only "burnout" that'll remain is the viewer whose heart has been scorched.

Amy opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, July 3, before expanding nationwide on Friday, July 10.

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