Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Arthouse hopping: AMY...DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL...

All we have left of Amy Winehouse are two CDs worth of music and Amy, a new documentary by Asif Kapadia. We're better off with the CDs, because they give us her voice. It was a powerful, sultry thing,  that voice; she sang as if her very soul was dying of disappointment. The movie? It’s about a precocious kid who got rich, became a crackhead, and dropped dead.  

Yet, people seem to love this movie and are incredibly stirred by it. I think people simply miss Winehouse so much that they aren’t able to see that Amy is nothing but several miles of home movie clips artlessly strewn together. Watching it is like being forced to sit through someone’s collection of selfies. 

Stranger still, even the musical performances are drab. There’s footage of Winehouse singing at parties, auditioning, rehearsing, performing in small clubs, and at British award shows. We even see her on David Letterman's old program. None of the performance clips do her justice. She looks scared and clumsy in most of them, and her voice is so garbled that the lyrics are printed up on the screen like subtitles. Her legendary jazz phrasing, so revered during her brief lifetime, here sounds mannered and amateurish. A live version of 'Rehab' provides some momentary uplift, but even that great song sounds lifeless and draggy, like she's struggling to perform under water. 'Rehab', incidentally, was such a colossal hit in the UK that Winehouse apparently went mental. The next time we see her in the movie, she’s down to weighing 80 pounds, a bulimic stick figure with her hair piled into a Bride of Frankenstein do, shambling down a London street looking like one of those frightened lab monkeys just let out of its cage. There’s an uncomfortable moment where some British paparazzi corner her at an event and blast away with their cameras. She seems to be wilting in front of the flashes, as if the old Native American fear is true, that having your picture taken steals your spirit. 

There are times in the film when Winehouse seems bright and funny, but at other times she’s just a stereotypical dumb rock chick (“I’ve written your name on my tummy!”) . There are also moments when she seems like a lost, slightly depressed child who has been left to fend for herself. In those moments she can get your sympathy, but she was certainly no deep thinker, no genius. An anonymous music producer spews some rubbish about Winehouse being “an old soul”, but just because a girl listens to Sarah Vaughan doesn’t mean she’s an old soul. Another says that Winehouse had the unusual ability to make you feel important one moment, unimportant the next. I'd like to remind the fellow that this a trait is not unique to Winehouse, but is actually a power possessed by most women, especially around dumb guys. I wasn’t impressed by the people in Winehouse's life, either, especially the vapid, effete young men whose voices we hear in the film. They all seem to be named Richie or Nicky, and if you're not familiar with the Winehouse story, it may be difficult to tell if these guys were her boyfriends or just members of her band. Most annoying is how her old mates wax melancholy about Winehouse's fragile nature, but there’s no evidence in the film that they went out of their way to protect her. 

We’re to believe that fame killed Amy Winehouse, but I don’t think so. If she'd never opened her mouth to sing, she was still going to die young, probably of a drug overdose or an eating disorder. As far as I can tell from this movie, Amy Winehouse was traumatized by something in her teen years, perhaps her parents' divorce. If you draw comfort by thinking of Winehouse as an old soul, be my guest. To my eyes, she was mentally stranded at approximately age 14, or whatever age a girl is when she rebels by wearing mascara and smoking weed all day. 

Less successful without a popular singer at its center is The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a plodding coming of age story about a 15-year-old girl growing up in 1970’s San Francisco. Aside from the main girl’s Mickey Rat t-shirt and a few references to Patty Hearst, the film doesn’t overdo the Seventies nostalgia. Then again, what was so friggin’ great about that decade anyway? Why do we keep revisiting that era?  There was an ugly war going on, the government was upside down, and the fashions were as if someone took the ridiculous hippie clothes of the Sixties and sanitized them for the Sears catalog. The ‘70s was just a bunch of people who were so worn out by the 1960s that they started listening to James Taylor. Fire and rain, my ass.

Diary is the story, chiefly, of Minnie, a young for her age teenager who starts up a heated affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Minnie’s mother is lightly buzzed most of the time, so she’s clueless;  the boyfriend is just a 35 year old lummox who can’t believe his good fortune.  Minnie starts the affair by playfully biting the guy’s finger;  I guess greater romances have started with much less.  In a short time, Minnie has become a screaming harpy,  upset at having to share her scruffy stud with her ditzy mother.  She’s soon sucking cocks in a public toilet, just to see what it’s like to be a hooker.  If you’re wondering, she feels rather gross about it.  From there, she takes part in a threesome, experiments with lesbianism, drops acid, and enjoys all sorts of other wacky, fun-loving teen stuff. She’s like Lolita with no rudder, just spinning out of control, sucking merrily at this or that.

I don’t know if this movie, which could’ve been called Cocksucker’s Progress, is awful or not.  There’s plenty of frank language and blunt depictions of sex, all of which is probably meant to bushwhack us with its rawness and realism. Minnie is also a fan of comic books, so a lot of scenes are punctuated by fruity animation, like flowers and butterflies popping out of her ears when she’s in a happy mood. This is already an old idea, and director Marielle Heller doesn’t do much new with it. Still, the blending of the crude and the cute might’ve worked if we didn’t have to stop every 10 minutes so Minnie could talk about being lonely and fat. There are, however, some winning performances. As Minnie, 23-year-old Bel Powley is quite believable as an immature girl overwhelmed by her spanking new horniness. Alexander Skarsgård is acceptable as the rooster in the henhouse, though any actor willing to grow a mustache could’ve played the role. Meanwhile, Kristen Wiig is highly watchable as Minnie’s chicken-brained mother. Credit Wiig for still searching out those delicious character parts that will showcase her intelligence and vulnerability. This one probably sounded right on paper, but in the end, her presence barely matters in a movie about greedy genitalia.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to an artsy fillm, artsy critics fear they'll look dumb if they find fault just because it's shitty.