Good lord this is a curious movie – a biopic about Jimi Hendrix which features no music by Jimi Hendrix.
It’s difficult not to be reminded of the fake Janis Joplin biopic Sing Them Blues, White Girl: The Jackie Jormp-Jomp Story from 30 Rock where no life story rights have been obtained. Why? Well famously (and perhaps surprisingly) Jimi Hendrix’s estate always refuses to allow his music to be used in dramas which also feature drug taking. As such the only performances in the movie are recreations of the cover songs Jimi Hendrix performed, performed by a house soundalike band.
The film centres on the period just before Hendrix’s fame struck. The leading performance of Hendrix by Andre “3000” Benjamin is a more of an imitation than the presentation of a rounded character – there is literally no sense of anything under the surface, nothing driving the man. It is good work in the sense Jimi is instantly recognisable, but it’s simply not enough to carry a whole movie. As an audience we’re crying out for more.
There are moments of darkness attempting to spur the story along, Hendrix being victimised on the street by London policemen is genuinely uncomfortable to watch, as the gentle man concedes to the demands of the bullying plods. Later though a moment of horrendous domestic violence comes from nowhere, unexplained and dead-eyed. It’s an odd and out of place moment, suddenly the gentle Hendrix lashing out.
Hayley Atwell, doing great work as young woman on the make Kathy Etchingham, is apparently playing an utterly fictional character – the woman she is playing has threatened legal action against the film for the mistakes it makes about her, including the made up domestic violence which she insists never happened.
Knowing this makes those moments seem even more thrown in for the sake of it.
Imogen Poots as Linda Keith is also doing great stuff too, posh and living independently, artfully in control, she’s a sympathetic and driven character. She’s more of a narrative force in the story than Hendrix is himself.
As a film though this straightforward “unfamous man makes way towards becoming famous” narrative still remains a mess – it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It’s clearly attempting to get under the skin of the guitar genius, but Benjamin’s performance – although perfectly recognisable – just isn’t good enough to tell the story they want to tell. A story which has to create fiction for sake of narrative, for example making up characters to explain Jimi’s lack of involvement in Black politics.
The continuing lack of his music throughout in the end just becomes embarrassing. By the close of the movie we’re left with a cover version of the Trogg’s Wild Thing, which although vaguely appropriate, is just enormously missing the mark.
Jimi: All Is By My Side is, sadly, a wasted opportunity.
Previously posted on cinetalk.co.uk