Movie Review - Jimi: All is By My Side

Singer-rapper Andre 3000 plays legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix in this film about the year of his life from June 1967 to June 1968, focusing on what brought him to London from New York and essentially how he was discovered. I had the same problem with the film as I had with the recent music biopic Get On Up. It left me disliking the subject, again because of domestic abuse and how it's portrayed.

This movie comes in the wake of the domestic abuse cases that have rocked the NFL and dominated the news through September. Yes, this is a biopic and if Jimi beat up his girlfriend, then writer-director John Ridley shouldn't shy away or try to hide it. Ridley won the Oscar for writing 12 Years a Slave, so he's accustomed to showing domestic abuse, particularly men beating women.

The racist and slave culture in that film was the reasoning for the domestic abuse and it was clear why the beatings happened. However, here there is no reasoning or clear why. Ostensibly, the why is jealousy, but it's totally incongruous for Andre 3000's character as depicted. It's not incongruous for Michael Fassbender's character in 12 Years a Slave.

It's not to say that showing a white man as an abuser is preferable to showing a black man as an abuser. It's preferable that if one does show a black man as an abuser, there's a trajectory or arc that makes sense. It doesn't make sense here. It feels like it literally came out of nowhere. All of a sudden, Jimi just starts brutally beating his girlfriend with a telephone. It's horrible.

It seemingly comes out of nowhere because from the beginning and pretty consistently, Jimi is a hippie. He's all about peace, love and smoking marijuana. He has a bit of an anti-social streak, but he's remarkably laid-back and never really waivers from that. For Jimi to have this violent outburst, it's uncharacteristic and shocking. Perhaps, that's the point. Perhaps, Ridley hadn't a true grasp on the character, or didn't feel compelled for an arc in that case.

However, having an arc would have made the film more interesting. Without it, the film is rather dull because ultimately the character is dull. Him briefly getting violent is shocking if only because it wakes up a sleepy audience. Jimi Hendrix as a character here is one of the most passive characters ever.

Jimi is a good guitar player, but in terms of anything else, he is a bit of a bean bag. It's other people whom encounter him that end up doing most of the work, in terms of storytelling, and even get most of the dialogue, such as his girlfriend or his eventual manager. Jimi is mainly a figurehead in his own story. Even characters who only have one scene like musicians Keith Richards and Eric Clapton are more memorable than Jimi.

Some people made bones about the fact that this film didn't have the rights to use Hendrix's actual music. This isn't bothersome, aside from one scene. Toward the end, Jimi says he wrote a song for a girl he supposedly loves. They talk about that song, but it would have been better if we could have actually heard it.

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.


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