Imagining the year in which a sideman named Jimmy Hendrix turned into a star called Jimi, John Ridley's "All Is By My Side" is an oblique, offstage rock portrait, withholding many of the pleasures we expect from biopics in favor of a sometimes dreamy look at an inchoate artistic persona. One of the pleasures withheld is the sight of Hendrix playing "Hey Joe" or "Purple Haze," songs that marked his entry into the UK music scene. For that reason and others, the film isn't as commercial as one might expect for a project about one of the Sixties' most evergreen icons. What moviegoers do get is a film both thoughtful and convincing, sympathetic but not flattering to a man who had just three years after this period's end to make himself immortal.
One savvy move in both commercial and artistic terms is the lead casting of Andre Benjamin. The rapper, known as Andre 3000, hasn't acted in a film since 2008's Semi-Pro; this performance shows that (the disappointment of the OutKast movie "Idlewild" notwithstanding) Benjamin needn't be confined to comedy and genre roles where charisma is all that's required. Benjamin loses himself in Hendrix's soft, melodic speech, talking earnestly about the colors his music produces and the cosmic fate of mankind without sounding like a hippie idiot.
Much of what gives this Hendrix weight is the attention of women. We meet him in New York's Cheetah club, when Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) sees him playing with Curtis Knight and the Squires. Linda, Keith Richards's girlfriend, knows a bit about the business, and befriends Jimmy with a purpose: She insists that he find himself artistically and make his own career. After bringing a series of heavy hitters to see him play in New York (Andrew Loog Oldham and Seymour Stein are among those who pass on signing him), she arranges for former Animals member Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) to manage him; Chandler takes Hendrix to London to get things rolling.