Jimi: All Is By My Side
by Ken Carrell
TL;DR – If you’re bored on a weeknight and you’ve seen everything else, then yeah, okay, maybe go see this. A badly penned script and an uneven lead performance drag back a relatively solid visual directing style and some better supporting performances that could have made this a solid film. But there’s enough wrong with it to make it worth watching only once and maybe not even then.
Being a mid-20s, I wasn’t around for the Hendrix era, so I can’t attest to the legitimacy of the storyline despite many of Hendrix’s friends saying nay to it being authentic to any major degree. So I’ll critique it based solely on it being a film.
I really, really wanted to like this movie. I really did. But I can’t, in good faith. There’s too much wrong with it, the least of which being that the Hendrix Estate fought tooth and nail to keep it from being released. That’s a bad foot to start out on.
The script needed a few more passes with someone else at the pen. A weird revelation to come to midway through the movie when you realize John Ridley, who won an Oscar for the screenplay for 12 Years A Slave, also wrote this one. The unraveling of the plot is appropriate if slightly uneven. The issue is that many parts of it seem inorganic and contrived. Conflict seems to be thrown in haphazardly at times in order to give the next plot point in line something on which to latch. I don’t know if this is how Hendrix really acted when he was around, but if it was, I wouldn’t be a fan. He has too many moments where he lets his antagonist out and hides his otherwise easy-going demeanor.
Semi-Pro airs on TV every so often and it was the first film I saw with André Benjamin and my favorite scenes in the film are the dramatic ones he shares with Woody Harrelson. Harrelson steals the show in these scenes, but he doesn’t completely outshine Benjamin, who surprisingly holds his own despite a lack of acting training. Based on that film, I’m glad he finally got a chance to be the lead star in something. But…
Scenes are always filmed out of order during production on a film and you can very clearly see it here. You could actually figure out the order in which the scenes were shot based on Benjamin’s performance. In the scenes filmed first, he hasn’t quite settled into the role yet. More energy is spent remembering the lines than trying to embody the character. As you see the scenes filmed later on, he sinks into the role a little more and starts to act more like Hendrix than himself. But the unevenness of the performance makes it hard to not wish they had more in the budget to reshoot the early shot scenes.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the editing. Normally, I wouldn’t bother, but it hurt to watch some of the cuts. John Ridley, editors Hank Corwin and Chris Gill, or one of the many producers seem to have a weird affinity for jump cuts. Even having an excessive number isn’t terrible, but once they started mixing intercuts with jump cuts, I got a headache. Many of the parts where the jump cuts start popping up every few seconds are appropriate; some aren’t.
If I praise anything from the film, it would have to be the performances from Imogen Poots and Hayley Atwell. Poots, playing Linda Keith, Keith Richards’s then-girlfriend, dominates the screen in Act I with a brilliant performance. She always gives just the right amount of emotion and always allows for exactly the right amount of time to pass between one set of lines and the next. My only complaint would be that she disappears after Act I and has only a few scenes in Act III. The middle hour of the film has her on screen for about four seconds. Unfortunate.
Atwell, playing Kathy Etchingham, does just as well. Several scenes pop up where conflict arises between her and Hendrix, as is expected when two people are dating. But where Benjamin’s anger seems mechanical, Atwell’s seems organic. One memorable scene has the unhappy couple fist fighting in an alleyway and gives Atwell a chance to really flex her acting muscles. Even Benjamin’s performance is better here.
It’s unfortunate that the Hendrix Estate said “no dice” to letting the producers use Hendrix’s music. This is slightly remedied by covering only the year of his life before he got famous, but this, of course, problematizes the urge to call it a biopic. Combine that with the fact that we barely get to see Hendrix’s musical genius in favor of contrived conflict between him and his female leads, and we’re left with an overall uninspiring film. I still really believe that John Ridley hasn’t come anywhere near exhausting his creative juices, but this film doesn’t benefit from his gift of filmmaking that his other films do.