A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jimi: All Is by My Side is a biographical drama about the pivotal year right after iconic musician Jimi Hendrix was discovered in a New York nightclub and then encouraged to move to London. Starring OutKast's Andre Benjamin as Hendrix, the narrowly focused biopic doesn't shy away from the legendary guitarist's substance (acid, weed, cigarettes, alcohol) and domestic abuse (which has been disputed by both Hendrix's heirs and the woman involved), as well as sex (he was a bit of a womanizer) and language ("s--t," "f--k," plus some British insults like "tosser" and "cow" and a couple of racist remarks made by white police officers). Fans of the musician should know that the movie doesn't include any of Hendrix's music, since the filmmakers weren't able to secure the rights to his songs.
What's the story?
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE starts off in the dark and smoky Cheetah Club in 1966. Keith Richards' then-girlfriend, 20-year-old London socialite Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), and her friends are watching a mediocre R&B band that features an electrifying left-handed guitarist playing a right-handed guitar upside down. In awe, Linda asks the guitarist, who goes by Jimmy James (Andre Benjamin), to come over and have a drink, which turns to them dropping acid together -- and rather immediately to her becoming his patron and muse. With her connections and money, Linda buys Jimi a proper left-handed electric guitar, convinces him to use his given last name, and introduces him to Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), bassist in the newly split band the Animals. Chandler, hoping to start a new career as a manager, is blown away and arranges for Jimi to move to London, where he finds backup musicians (the Experience) and encourages Jimi to explore a new style of music. Hendrix, meanwhile, has moved on from the posh Linda to street-wise redhead Kathy (Hayley Atwell). But Hendrix is unpredictable and peculiar -- not to mention black -- so his personal and professional future are always in doubt.
Is it any good?
This is a mostly flawed if occasionally entertaining look at a musician who may never get his justice on screen. (His estate refuses to allow the good, the bad, and the ugly to be portrayed.) Writer-director John Ridley (an Academy Award winner for adapting 12 Years a Slave) has long been obsessed with the story of how a beautiful blond Englishwoman helped discover Hendrix. And as Poots plays Keith, she's so much more than a gorgeous groupie -- she's a well-bred young woman with an eye for talent. Of course, this isn't a movie about Keith (although someone should make one), but she is the catalyst for the story. Unfortunately, Ridley was unable to secure the rights to any of Hendrix's actual music, so you won't hear a medley of Hendrix's greatest hits like you do in other musical biopics, like Ray or Walk the Line. And to be honest, you won't find out much about Hendrix's past or future -- just a pivotal slice of this particular year in his life.
Benjamin plays Hendrix as a laid back, go-with-the-flow man, not exactly a deep-thinking or particularly ambitious musical genius. It's too bad that Benjamin, who certainly looks the part, wasn't given the chance to do much singing except at the end -- and even then it's just a cover. It's basically a radical experiment on Ridley's part to create a biopic devoid of Hendrix's own music, and it's clever of him to get around the issue by concentrating on the tumultuous year leading up to the Monterrey Music Festival (which itself isn't part of the film). There are a few memorable moments, like when Eric Clapton refuses to stay on stage with Hendrix once he hears him play, or when Hendrix refuses to give into an English black power activist's call for him to be more outspoken on race issues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this approach to a biographical drama compares to other, more encompassing ones. Do you prefer stories that focus on one particular year or event in a historical figure's life (like Lincoln) or the ones that take a more sweeping view of the actor's whole life (Ray, Walk the Line)?
How does the movie portray Hendrix's substance use/abuse? Does the story show the consequences of his drug and alcohol use? Would you say he was an addict?
Despite being virtually the only black rock star of the late '60s, Hendrix had a rather laid back attitude toward race issues, if the movie is to be believed. Are you surprised that he wasn't more interested in civil rights or, as one character puts it, speaking to "his people"? Do you agree with Hendrix that music transcends divisions of class, culture, and race?
- In theaters: September 26, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 13, 2015
- Cast: Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots
- Director: John Ridley
- Studio: XLrator Media
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language including sexual references, and some drug content
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