Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse in 'Back to Black'
(Focus Features)

‘Back to Black’ Really Is as Bad as You’ve Heard

Amy Winehouse was a once in a lifetime talent, but Back to Black does not give that aspect of her life its due. Instead, the biopic diminishes Winehouse’s shine to put a spotlight on the toxic men in her life.

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Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Back to Black should have focused on Winehouse’s rise to fame, bunt the film has very little interest in her success when it isn’t attached to the men who tried to tear her down. The general public understanding of Winehouse’s father is that he is not a good man, yet Back to Black views him as an almost saintlike figure who just wanted to protect his daughter. Meanwhile, Amy (Marisa Abela) is depicted as a young woman with bad taste in men, who turned the pain they inflicted on her into songs.

Amy’s talent is constantly praised by her father, Mitch Winehouse (Eddie Marsan), who is depicted as the most supporting figure in her life. But the real Mitch used his daughter’s fame to lift himself up, both while she was alive and after her untimely death.

Outside of Mitch, the movie devotes too much time to Amy’s tumultuous relationship with Blake (Jack O’Connell). While Blake is an important and controversial part of Winehouse’s history, the movie spends so much time on him and not nearly enough on Amy’s music—we only ever see her write part of one song—which is what we thought we’d be getting from a movie about the late singer. If we knew Back to Black would just be about all the men in Amy’s life who tore her down (even if the movie doesn’t see them that way), we could have just watched Amy, the documentary about Winehouse. 

The worst thing about Back to Black

There is an entire section of the movie that focuses on Winehouse’s drug addiction, enabled by her husband, Blake. Within that section of the film, the two talk about having a baby together. When it doesn’t happen right away, they struggle until Blake is busted for drug possession and sent to jail. Blake gets sober, which seems to put his relationship with Winehouse into perspective, so he decides to leave her. She doesn’t take it well, and the two end up divorced.

Winehouse wanting a baby with her husband isn’t controversial, but then Back to Black doubles down on this idea that a baby could have saved her. When a young girl comes up to Winehouse in a store to gush about being a huge fan, Winehouse wistfully replies, “I wish I was your mom.”

Given that the rest of this movie ignores Winehouse’s success for the most part to focus on the men in her life, this second nod to motherhood rubbed me the wrong way. This is supposedly a movie about an artist, but that’s not what we get to see. Moments of her singing in clubs or her Grammys performance in London are not enough for a movie about Amy Winehouse! We don’t get to see her work towards that success. We get meetings where Amy is unprofessional followed by scenes of her in clubs. This movie spends way too much time with the toxic men in Amy’s life, only to insinuate that motherhood could have changed things.

Back to Black is painful to watch because Amy Winehouse deserves so much better.


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.