Slim & I
Jacob Richardson | 8/09/2020
A serviceable documentary that struggles to find its voice.
Chronicling the lives of Slim Dusty and Joy Mckean, Slim & I covers decades of the two’s business and romantic partnership that led to one of the largest, if not the largest, music catalogue produced by a single mainstream artist in history. The film covers their meeting, the tours leading to the first internationally acclaimed music, Joy’s transition into writing, the family they created, and Slim’s eventual death, and features interviews with Joy and her sister, a number of country music stars, and various musicians and producers who worked with Slim and Joy.
Slim & I suffers from one fatal flaw here, and that is around justifying its existence. Why should this documentary be made at all, particularly when a Slim Dusty movie was made featuring the man himself and Joy herself? This film postures the point of view that Joy’s side of the story needs to be told, and that her contribution to music in tandem with and independent of her husband is significant and interesting. This is undeniably true, and Joy Mckean is a legendary Australian music figure, but this documentary struggles to separate the two and make good on that promise - of telling Joy’s story.
Too often this documentary loses itself down a rabbit warren of Slim Dusty praise, and it isn’t hard to see why it would. But the real joys of this documentary come down to the interviews with Joy and her sister, and too often we spend way too much time away from their storylines, and focussed on Slim specific content.
Visually this is an incredibly professional production. The interviews with various country music stars including Keith Urban, Casey Chambers, Missy Higgins and more are shot beautifully, and edited into place incredibly well. There is also a wealth of content available that Slim and Joy filmed themselves, that has been filmed by TV stations over the years, and of course from the Slim Dusty movie. The issue is working these pieces together, and at times Slim & I can be confusing with the reenactments, mixed with television footage of Slim and Joy at older ages while discussing younger parts of their lives. In particular, this can be seen in their visits to Indigenous settlements. The documentary positions this relatively towards the start/middle of the film, which is, in the timeline, around when they started visiting these areas. But the filmmakers use footage that must have been shot when Slim Dusty was much older, of him and Joy on location in these villages. So we get a vision of a much older couple at this stage of their lives, when in reality the pair were relatively young then. This creates a layer of confusion as the documentary progresses, and keeps the audience wondering just where we are in the lives of these two music legends.
There are some truly laugh out loud moments in this piece, and usually those come from the Mckean sisters interviews. It is a shame that this wasn’t a clearer and more confident piece focussed on Joy in its entirety. There are notes of a good documentary, but no discernible tune.
One wishes this documentary was stronger in its convictions.