Stoner Movie Review: Marisa Abela Stars as Amy Winehouse in 'Back to Black'

via Focus Features

Amy Winehouse's vexing rise and fall is the subject of Sam Taylor Johnson’s Back to Black biopic, now in theaters.

The British R&B singer died at just 27 in 2011, joining the infamous club of rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin who never reached 28. Her trajectory was similar - a brief whiff of fame and then a swift decline. For Winehouse it all happened really fast.

A lover of jazz, she saw herself in the long line of vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. Winehouse's music was funkier and less traditional but her lifestyle plumbed the depths of pathos and emotional pain, and she eventually succumbed to alcohol and drugs like crack, leading her to enter a rehab facility and write a Grammy winning song that insisted she wouldn't go.

As we know it didn’t help. What spurred her short adult life of addiction?

Clearly, Amy (portrayed fantastically by Marisa Abela) had daddy issues with her Jewish father Mitch (Eddie Marsan). His presence is mostly benign in the movie, though he's not always supportive and plays with her head.

"Amy's often alone in the movie, a sad figure hitting London's cobblestone streets in search of the next drink and adventure."

But the main issue was her unswerving devotion to Blake Fielder-Civil (Jake O'Connell), who she meets in a bar and instantly falls in love with. It's a doomed romance from the start. Amy has just broken up with her boyfriend and Blake has a girlfriend. Amy snatches him away with her lively personality and the lure of celebrity and money. No matter how much they fight – it's unclear over what – the more Amy desperately holds on, even when he's jailed for assault, she visits him and Blake asks for a divorce.

Amy lived in her own world - one consumed with music, alcohol and impulsive moments. She just couldn't handle the simultaneous rushes of fame and love. it overwhelmed her.

Amy's often alone in the movie, a sad figure hitting London's cobblestone streets in search of the next drink and adventure. Her passing from alcohol poisoning is handled with an on-screen footnote.

Fans will love the music. most of which is from the Grammy wiinning 2006 album Back to Black and her 2003 debut, Frank. Abela does all the singing despite not being a singer. She slurs the words like Winehouse, whose voice cut like a knife. The relationship with Fielder-Civil brings the movie down, but that's the way it was. Blake's so uninteresting to the point of wondering what she sees in him. When they meet, he's couch hopping. What a catch!

But that was Amy Winehouse – wildly self-destuctive and somehow loveable at the same time.


Drug Use in 'Back to Black'

• Cannabis: Amy hits a joint and Mitch confiscates a bag of her weed.

• Cocaine and Crack: Amy smokes a glass pipe and Blake has a bag of coke.



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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.