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‘Back to Black’ Review: No, No, No

The director of “Back to Black,” Sam Taylor-Johnson, has said repeatedly in interviews that the movie is meant to center Amy Winehouse’s story in her own perspective. That may or may not be meant as implicit criticism of “Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning 2015 documentary about the singer, which wove together archival interviews — many damning — with family and friends as well as with Winehouse herself to make the case that everyone was at fault for her untimely demise.

Either way, Taylor-Johnson’s remarks suggest that Winehouse, who in 2011 died at the age of 27 of alcohol poisoning, has been co-opted in the years since her death. “Back to Black,” then, is an effort to tell the story the way she would have.

But, oof. If that was the aim, I’m comfortable saying it failed completely. “Back to Black” has some bright spots. One is Marisa Abela’s performance as Winehouse, which is deeply and lovingly committed, if at times a little distracting. A few sequences work, too, particularly her marathon pub meet-cute with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell), the man whose exceptionally toxic relationship with Winehouse inspired the album for which the movie is named. (Unfortunately there are very few scenes in which we see Winehouse’s songs coming together — usually the best part of a musician biopic.)

“Back to Black” starts with Winehouse expressing that she simply wants people to listen to her music and forget their troubles for a while, and to know who she really was. Then it follows her through her early gigs in Camden pubs, her friendships and her fights with boyfriends. When she meets Fielder-Civil, everything changes — and not for the best. Always a heavy drinker, she gradually becomes addicted to all kinds of substances, in part because he is an addict. When he goes back to his girlfriend, she writes angry songs that become “Back to Black.” When he returns, things get worse.

Yet the facts of the real Winehouse’s life and struggles are impossible to ignore, and some of the movie’s choices, from a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, seem aimed at rewriting her history without her consent. Fielder-Civil, for instance, has said he instigated Winehouse’s first encounter with heroin, but in “Back to Black” she starts shooting up on her own.

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