Expectations are a funny thing. If you take one of the most celebrated MCs to ever touch a mic and ask him to portray one of the greatest musicians to ever lay fingers on a guitar, the bar has been set high enough for a giraffe to fart on. Such is the case with the ambitious Jimi Hendrix film, Jimi: All Is By My Side.
Director John Ridley is following his Oscar win for 12 Years A Slave by covering just one year in the life of Jimi Hendrix, the Rock & Roll legend who died tragically on September 18, 1970 at the age of 27. Outkast’s Andre “3000” Benjamin steps into the lead role, his first film since 2008’s basketball comedy, Semi-Pro.
The movie takes place between September 1966 and June 1967 and asserts to cover a year in the life of Hendrix before he became an international sensation. The film opens with Hendrix being discovered playing at The Cheetah club by Linda Keith (played by Imogen Poots), who had been dating Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones at the time. She takes a serious interest in the guitarist and dedicates herself to making him a star.
With any film based on a real person the viewer is asked to suspend belief a bit, but All Is By My Side borders on fan fiction. Hendrix’s one time girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (portrayed by Hayley Atwell in the film) has gone on record saying that the creators never spoke to her and the family of Hendrix did not grant the use of his music in the film.
“I think what’s happened here, is that when he made the film, because he didn’t have the rights to the music, he had to think up a different story,” she said of Ridley in a Cuepoint interview. “And he didn’t really want to know the truth, because it would be too hard to make a film like that. He just simply made it up.”
However, to ask an audience to just go along for the ride is not uncommon, so the only thing left to digest is whether the film is a worthwhile experience, and sadly it is not.
While Andre 3000 certainly gives you the look and feel of Hendrix, his attempt to capture the Rock stars’ demure and somewhat mellifluous lilt comes across as a little lazy and incoherent at times. Because there is so little context provided, Benjamin’s Hendrix is somewhat of a bodiless apparition floating from scene to scene like he is in a celluloid purgatory waiting for the audience to catch up. We are shown an artist who is trying to make a name for himself but his struggles in the film are typically self-inflicted via womanizing and drug use, so it is hard to build empathy. And even when he does encounter world-changing realities like racism, he lacks so much passion in the face of adversity that it feels like a mild annoyance that he can simply wish away. The “married to the music” trope is hammered home with the subtlety of Mjolnir as he leaves women in the wake of his purple haze, but we never feel like even music is a worthy bride for this Hendrix as he seemingly doesn’t care about anything. Benjamin rattles off platitudes about love and life that come off like fortune cookie stuffing. In one scene Keith attempts to capture the frustration she is having with Hendrix and his daisy age ramblings and we can empathize when she says, “You have an annoying way of being quite simply profound.” Emphasis on the annoying.
In fact, when Hendrix is cornered by his women to follow him into the world —whether it’s just a few miles downtown or across the globe—he dismisses them all with the same mousy yet declarative dodge, “There’s nothing there for you.”
And sadly, that is the truth about this film. For fans of Hendrix you get very little of the man you admire and for newbies you are not offered any real proof of his legend.