Published May 08, 2014What is the story of Jimi Hendrix? What is all by his side, besides a guitar, a beautiful woman and usually some marijuana? Jimi: All by My Side attempts to pry beyond the ruminations of the beloved guitarist by examining a crucial but little-known time in his life. This period was 1966, when Hendrix was on his way to being discovered with the help of Animals bassist Chas Chandler and Linda Keith, perhaps better known as Keith Richards' girlfriend at the time.
Writer/director John Ridley, who recently won an Oscar for writing 12 Years a Slave, clearly has passion and respect for his subject; by focusing solely on the period just prior to Hendrix's breakthrough, the staging is ripe for a deeper character exploration. This tactic is strong in that it avoids some of the more obvious rise-and-fall clichés of rock biopics. However, the film never fully takes advantage of this opportunity, as Jimi's romantic entanglements and psychedelic mutterings never quite add up to more than the notion of a guy just wanting to play his guitar.
As Hendrix, OutKast rapper Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000) holds more than a passing resemblance to the guitarist and gives a commendable performance, channelling Hendrix's shy, low-key charisma by lowering his natural speaking voice and affecting his gentle stutter. Imogen Poots (as Linda Keith), Hayley Atwell, and Ruth Negga are all fetching as Hendrix's various female foils, but their cumulative effect is less than the sum of their parts. The actors all dance around their roles with energy and conviction, but the end result does little to truly engage the audience with Jimi's character.
The personal conflicts start to run flat when Ridley's limitations as a director become apparent; more than one romantic breakdown in the film is reduced to shot/reverse shot dialogues, effectively draining the drama from the scene. This drives home the lack of a dramatic core to hold the enterprise together, despite not shying away from the uglier aspects of Jimi's womanizing. While Ridley and his crew put in admirable effort to present an honest portrayal of Hendrix and generally avoiding melodrama, audiences may be more inclined to just put on Are You Experienced again to get the full experience.
Jimi: All Is By My Side will play on May 8 at Toronto's Royal Cinema as part of CMW Film Fest.