Back to Black (2024)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Sam Taylor-Johnson’
Run Time
2 hours and 2 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.

Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who hav
 I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it.  I don't do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do.

Romans 7:18-19 (Good News Translation)
Amy & her backup dancers (c) Focus Features

At the end of  director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film about Amy Winehouse I felt as I did way back in 1979 at the conclusion of the film loosely based on Janis Joplin, The Rose—”Wow, what a mess, a tragedy of so much talent wasted by alcohol and drug addiction!”

Unfortunately, the story of Amy Winehouse follows the rockstar trope. Growing up in a London Jewish family that included a tradition of professional musicians, she emerged early on as a talented singer, claiming jazz as being her foundational music—influenced by her beloved Nan Cynthia (Lesley Manville), who had been a singer.

Amy has recorded numerous songs and received many awards by the time she spots the handsome Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell) in a bar’s pool room. Instantly attracted to him, she brazenly joins him in a game of pool. He, of course, recognizes her. She already drinks more alcohol than is safe. They enter into a romantic relationship despite his dalliance with another woman. During Amy’s time with Blake, the following exchange takes place:

Blake: “Er… do you partake?”, to which Amy replies, “No. Not for me. Class A drugs are for mugs.”

Blake: “Oh, that’s a really nice catchphrase. I thought you were rock n’roll.”

Amy: “No. I’m jazz.”

Blake: “Have you got an issue with it, then?”

Amy: “Well, I’m not gonna call the police or anything. But I think it’s stupid, yeah.”

Blake: “Well, I think weed’s stupid, so there you go. Plus, I don’t think that you really think that I’m a mug, so, therefore, by my sheer existence… I’ve disproven your theory about Class A’s and mugs, haven’t I?”

Amy: “Yeah, well… I haven’t really thought about it like that before. Maybe it’s a load of bollocks and you’re still a mug.”

The two have a tumultuous time, even marrying for a while. Amy’s life is up and down, with her agreeing briefly to enter a rehabilitation clinic. But not for long, she writing her song about refusing to stay with it, Rehab.”

Her divorced mother and father Janice and Mitch (Juliet Cowan and Eddie Marsan) are unable to help her, and she continues to abuse alcohol and drugs, the singer succumbing to alcohol poisoning at the young age of 27.

The film’s title is fittingly taken from her award-winning song. It is a breakup song of regret over her lost love, Blake, the title line referring to her going back to her previous state, one not at all positive with its metaphor of “black.” The opening lines in all their vulgarity relate that Blake resumed his relationship with his previous girlfriend, which breaks Amy’s heart. The chorus reveals the singer’s anguish:

We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her and I go back to
We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her and I go back to black

The film attempts to raise Amy’s story above mere tragedy by having her say at the beginning and the end, “I want people to hear my voice and just forget their troubles for five minutes. I want to be remembered for being a singer for sell-out concerts and sell-out West End and Broadway shows. For just being me.”

She did indeed achieve that goal, but this does not cancel out her turning to alcohol and drugs to alleviate the great pressures she was undergoing. Amy is much like the apostle Paul, who in his Letter to the Romans, writes of his knowing what is good, is unable to do it. In her linking up with Blake she recognizes his use of drugs is “stupid,” yet under his influence starts using them anyway. There seems to be no outside power, as there was in the apostle’s life to rescue her. Her family’s heritage  of the Jewish faith had little influence on her, though she did attend a Yom Kippur service some years “out of respect” as she said. Her biography stands as a cautionary tale to all the talented who would follow in her footsteps. Although showcasing her great talent, I wish that writer Matt Greenhalgh had shown us more of the singer’s generous donations to many charities and individuals, Pop World naming her “the most charitable act.” But then the film at 2 hours and 2 minutes is already long enough. I suppose we should just remember her as a unique voice and who forgot their troubles during its duration. Certainly, British actress, with her beehive hairdo transforming her into Amy’s likeness, makes us believe she is the real deal. That she uses her own voice is all the more remarkable. Just as I still recall scenes from The Rose, so I believe I will remember many scenes from this on—especially those with her beloved Nan—many years from now.

This review will be in the June issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *