Rhino // 2003 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // July 23rd, 2009
If you can remember it then you weren't there
My Dinner with Jimi is a retelling of the rise of 1960's rock group The Turtles, and more specifically a crazy and celebrity filled night they enjoyed in London shortly after making it big. The main character is vocalist Howard Kaylan (Justin Henry, ER) and the main spectacle is a dinner between himself and legendary guitar maestro Jimi Hendrix (Royale Watkins, Speed 2: Cruise Control), but other famous faces appear too, not least of which are The Beatles and Brian Jones (Jay Michael Ferguson, Sabrina the Teenage Witch).
My Dinner with Jimi is a hard picture to get a grasp on. For such a financially constrained effort, it's remarkable the amount of effort and passion the filmmakers have managed to convey onscreen, and the love for the 1960s is in delicious abundance throughout. However the narrative style of the film doesn't really work. The first 45 minutes are incredibly patchy, concerning what entertains and interests, in contrast to what simply bores. Music lovers might be enraptured by the various moments in history it re-enacts (the dinner with Hendrix really happened), but those looking for a solid rock drama in the vein of Almost Famous are bound to leave disappointed.
The film doesn't really explore The Turtles in any great depth, and whilst the performances are genial, they're unlikely to live long in the memory. I'm not hugely familiar with The Turtles (I've heard a few songs, that's it) or indeed 1960s music as a whole, and I felt My Dinner with Jimi taught me very little. This isn't a major criticism of the filmmakers -- this after all is a movie made by music lovers for music lovers -- but sadly the uninitiated might feel left out in the cold. I have to give kudos to Royale Watkins for a lively and engaging assessment of Hendrix but whilst the like of Henry and Ferguson are fine, they fail to create interpretations of their respective musicians that will live long in the memory.
The narrative choices director Bill Fishman (Tapeheads) chooses are slightly perplexing, a series of flashbacks and drunken recollections that taper together to form the loose plot. We start in America and move off to England for the second half, but particularly in the opening 40 minutes it's difficult to deduce what stage of The Turtles' career we're at. Fishman deploys an abundance of cut backs and narrations that compiled together add up to maximum confusion. Things become much simpler in the UK-based second half and indeed that is definitely the movie's stronger section, a drunken John Lennon and the meal from which the title is derived offering up a nice mix of musical retrospective and enjoyable comedy.
Overall My Dinner with Jimi underwhelmed me, but that's not to say it's an awful film. There are some likable scenes and a great performance from Royale Watkins which goes a fair way to compensating for other less inspired turns. I imagine if you had a fascination with the era and the music then this actually might be a very valuable movie. I possess neither and so have to concur that, as a whole, it's let down by confused storytelling and a sloppy opening half.
The DVD features very basic audio and video capabilities, but there are a few cool extras for fans. A commentary between Howard Kaylan and the film's producer is fun, especially Kaylan who recollects many of the scenes with more energy and frivolity than the actual movie. Two featurettes are also included focusing on various aspects of band life with The Turtles, whilst there is also a discography for diehard fans. It's not a selection that's going to win awards, but for such a low budget disc it's nice to see the filmmakers (and indeed the band on which it is based) provide some meat for those investing in their movie.
It's going to have to be guilty from a filmmaking perspective, but I reckon if the subject really interests you, this could provide a great time.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: The Turtles