Tropic Sprockets / Back to Black

By Ian Brockway

Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) directs “Back to Black,” a conventional biopic highlighting the unconventional singer Amy Jade Winehouse, who died in 2011 at the early age of 27. The film contains some lively trappings, mostly he presence of actor Marisa Abela, who does a fine job in embodying the music star.

The main drawback to the film is that it does not go anywhere very exciting considering that Winehouse was herself a provocative and exciting singer and writer. We see Winehouse reflecting upon 1960s girl band glamour, singing in pubs, and then having trouble balancing a demanding career along with drugs and alcohol. In light of other filmed biographies, this story only colors Winehouse within mainstream lines.

Here is Abela who is an eerie carbon copy of Winehouse right down to her raven rockabilly presence. The actor is a boozy Betty Boop, and her voice is perfect. Her round and watchful avian eyes are Amy’s twin.

When Abela takes the stage, one sees the sirenian sorcery that the singer no doubt contained. The music and sound are flawless, and we feel the smoky electricity and serpentine magic that Winehouse created. To see the singer on stage was no doubt a charismatic and sable experience.

But after the stage we are only treated to bluster, booze, collapses and passive aggressive boyfriends who strut about like soporific roosters mostly in the vain and somewhat sad shape of Blake (Jack O’Connell).

There are arguments, liquor, cries, and crack cocaine but very little of the artist and her uniquely vivid self.

Actor Lesley Manville delivers a solid performance as Winehouse’s grandmother, a creative catalyst, and her biggest supporter. But aside from some handholding and beehive hair advice, there is little to be seen.

Winehouse was indeed troubled, but she also stands for more: diverse combinations, strange rhythms and motions, eccentricity, and dark designs upon the musical flesh.

The best thing to say about the film and to its credit is that the music and the spirit in Marisa Abela compels one to see other provocative films about the singer.

But here there is only one uniform shade of black.

Write Ian at [email protected]

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