Music biopics are a fickle business in the film world. Our parasocial relationship with celebrities has led us to dramatize even the minutest moments of someone’s life for the sake of a profit margin. It’s a duel between truth or fiction, real and fake, that most films of its kind don’t get right. Films like Sid and Nancy (1986), Control (2007) and Love and Mercy (2014) are exceptions to the rule because of what they achieve. Though not completely honest they all have a sense of authenticity towards their subject. This begs the question: when does a biopic lose authenticity and become a form of exploitation? I think Back to Black answers that. Sam Taylor Johnson’s new big screen project about the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse. 

Marisa Abela takes on the role of Winehouse and to start off on a positive note I do believe she’s really trying to present Winehouse as best she can. The effort she’s gone into for recreations of Winehouse’s big moments (her performance at Glastonbury, her Grammy win) where she really tries to mimic her vocal inflections and movements is to be commended. She also sings on the soundtrack which, although a bad creative choice by the producers, is commendable. Thats it though, this film is a travesty. 

Abela does clearly put in a lot of work but it’s all in vain, her performance makes Winehouse insufferable from the get-go. Amy is probably the least likable person in the story about her life, and that’s before she gets into her addiction and toxic relationship with Blake Fielder- Civil (Jack O’Connell, struggling to keep this sunken ship afloat). 

The plot meanders from clichéd plot point to worse clichéd plot point, with Johnson’s direction doing nothing but supporting this. In a scene where Amy’s manager stages an intervention on her drinking with her father, she’s asked to go to rehab…. I’ll let you guess what she says. The film portrays Winehouse’s creative decisions as either an on the spot eureka moment or misfortune befalls her, and she immediately picks up a guitar. Pratfalls of vapid, soulless writing and directing. 

It cheapens an already cheap feeling experience. The lighting is flat in most places and when effort is clearly used it’s to match existing footage from a real event. The contrast in these scenes clearly showing the lack of willpower to create something meaningful. The cinematography is lazy, no progression or voice behind it. 

Abela’s vocal performance is a bad holiday resort soundalike, which was always going to be overshadowed by the real thing, but this takes the biscuit. Amy’s voice is heard before the credits, and it just so vividly proves the point about this movie’s intention. A clear case of legacy stomping for cash that would make Bohemian Rhapsody (2021) blush. 

The dialogue feels ripped from the set of a slow episode of Eastenders. After being scolded by her grandmother for stinking like booze and cigarettes Amy says, “That’s just my perfume…  Chanel number pub”, ugh. The blame for Amy’s abuse and addictions is pinned solely on her, enabling clearly an alien concept here. This film reads as if her crack and alcohol addiction was an aesthetic rather than an infliction, implied more than shown to get that sweet 15A rating. Wouldn’t want to lose out of butts in seats for the sake of a bit of truth now, would we? 

This film is where truth goes to die, where reality is avoided at all costs. It’s a senseless death too since there’s a multitude of documentaries and video footage of Amy that do the actual job this film is masquerading as. Go watch Amy (2015) or Reclaiming Amy (2021), even go watch the Classic Albums Episode on Back to Black. Anything but this, she deserved better. 

Rating: 1/5

  • Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson 
  • Written by: Matt Greenhalgh
  • Starring: Marisa Abela
  • Runtime: 2hrs 2min
  • Rated: R (US) | 15 (UK) | 15A (IE)
  • Budget: $22,400,000 (est.)
  • Released: May 27th, 2024 (US) | April 12th, 2024 (UK & IE)

Review by Marcus Rochford.

Back in Black Trailer