TL;DR – A beautiful documentary looking back on the lives of Slim Dusty and Joy McKean
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Growing up in Australia, even if you might not know who Slim Dusty is or even if just the name rings a bell, you will still know a bunch of his songs, even if it is only through osmosis. Songs like A Pub With No Beer and Duncan sit in the pantheon of Australian music, and you probably started humming at least one of those tunes to yourself just with the mere mention of the name. However, I must confess that I didn’t really know much about his life beyond those touchstone moments and even less about Joy McKean, the I in Slim and I and the main focus of the documentary.
The documentary follows a (mostly) chronological look at the lives of Joy McKean and Slim Dusty’s from their start in music through to today. We get to see them go on these gigantic Australia wide tours, raise a family on the road, and also write at least two albums a year which might be the most bonkers part of the entire process. Indeed, over their 50-year love story, they wrote at least 107 albums which is frankly ridiculous. They show this story with a mix of interviews with both Slim and Joy’s family but also with key members of Australia’s Country Music scene like Keith Urban, Missy Higgins and Kasey Chambers. As well as this, we get archive footage going back to the 60s, both professionally shot and also just from home cameras. There is such a varied amount of footage that someone had to be well ahead of the curve in adopting that technology and preserving it all these years.
I have seen a lot of films about ‘the woman behind the man’, but that is not what I would classify Slim & I as. I was struggling to define it until there was a line in the film that summed it up. This is a film about the ‘woman beside the man’ because that is what Joy McKean was. She was a promoter, an agent, a writer, a performer, and more. It was not easy to work touring across Australia and back again in an era when the roads were not as good as they are today and it would be a struggle in some parts of Australia today. They powered through it and made that relationship work to the end.
Where this documentary shines is in the emotion, because I don’t think I have laughed as much in a movie that also brought me to tears several times. When people reminisce about the past, they could be dower or look at it with joy. Here we get the latter, but also with a clear desire not to sugarcoat some of the bad parts like having to send the kids off to boarding school while they were on tour. There were moments when the entire cinema was in rapturous laughter and then moments when you could feel the solemn sadness in the room, and it takes real talent to make that work as a whole. That emotion extended to everyone who was interviewed. There was a real pride when they talked about Slim or Joy, looking up to them as mentors and trailblazers that went out before them to make the road easier for everyone else that followed. Watching Troy Cassar-Daley talk with such joyous reverence about a dear friend, well it is hard not to get caught up in it all.
There were a couple of moments that did give me pause across the documentary, moments when I thought the work were cashing checks that they could not support. However, in each of those moments, they took the time to flesh out the bold claim they were making with people who were on the ground at the time, which gave everything the context they needed. This was most noticeable in the section when they talked about the time Slim and Joy spent touring the Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. Also, just a small thing, I do wish the title of the film reflected more of the ‘I’ given how much of this film is about Joy.
In the end, do we recommend Slim and I? If you are a fan of music history and Country Music, especially then I thoroughly recommend this movie to you. If you are a fan of Australian stories or quality biopics then once again I would completely recommend it to you. If you liked Slim and I, I would also recommend to you Gurrumul.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Slim & 1
Directed by – Kriv Stenders
Written by – Kriv Stenders
Edited by – Karryn De Cinque
Cinematography by – Evan Papageorgiou
Production/Distribution Companies – Screen Queensland, Screen Australia & Universal Pictures
Featuring – Slim Dusty and Joy McKean with Keith Urban, Missy Higgins, Paul Kelly, Don Walker, Kasey Chambers, Bill Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daley, Chad Morgan, Heather McKean, Anne Kirkpatrick & Darren Hanlon
Rating – Australia: PG;