The Commitments

"Very Good"

The Commitments Review


Released in 1991, The Commitments was Alan Parker's third film about pop music. His first, Fame, was a frothy coming-of-age-musical that made the most of its youthful enthusiasm despite a disease-of-the-week-style script. The second, Pink Floyd: The Wall, was a depressive, insular, and angular pastiche of moody myth-making that was interesting mainly for people who fried their brains listening to "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" a hundred times too often. The Commitments sits somewhere in the middle: An engaging, open-hearted entertainment that pulls off two neat tricks. First, it's one of the few movies about rock-pop-soul music that seems to have the right idea about why and how bands come together, with some fine performances from rank amateurs. But more impressively, it finds some great humor in a setting that's defined by grinding poverty.

The setting is North Dublin, where Jimmy Rabbite (Robert Arkins) is trying to simultaneously shrug off his parents' bad taste and the dole-driven life that surrounds him. Jimmy carries a deep and abiding love for soul music of the pre-Motown era - Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, and so on - though he understandably has a hard time convincing his friends and family that soul isn't an exclusively black music. In a video store, Jimmy plays old-school soul tapes to the unbelievers before uttering the film's funniest and most poignant line: "The Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin."

Not that the script - co-written by Roddy Doyle from his book - spends much time pondering the IRA or the various tensions that ravaged Dublin; its charm is more is in its personal glimpses, in how it collects a variety of entertaining characters and lets them act out their idiosyncrasies. Joey Fagan (Johnny Murphy), the aging bullshitter who claims to have a long touring resume but mainly uses his musical knowledge to seduce women to the Shaft theme, is the comic relief. The then 16-year-old Andrew Strong, as lead singer Deco Cuffe, is the emotional center of the film, belting out "Try a Little Tenderness" and "Mr. Pitiful" with palpable enthusiasm, and Natalie (Maria Doyle) doing a lovely take on "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)." (After the success of the film, attempts were made to give Strong a real recording career. It didn't take, aside from a pair of decently-received soundtrack albums; that's rock and roll, kids.)

Outside of that, it's the smaller moments that make the film: Jimmy's attempts to find band members offers a hilarious sequence showing the variety of would-be Dublin idols pounding on his door; Percy Sledge performed on a church organ; gags about Elvis, God, and Evel Kneivel offered up by Jimmy's father (Colm Meaney). If it's light on meaning, it's strong at presenting the visceral pleasures of music, which can be extremely difficult to do. Just ask Alan Parker, whose next music-related film project was Evita.

Parker offers tons of extras on the two-disc Commitments DVD set, including a video of the song that plays over the closing credits (with Arkins singing instead of Strong), and tons of background material on the making of the film and about Dublin in general.



The Commitments

Facts and Figures

Run time: 118 mins

In Theaters: Friday 4th October 1991

Production compaines: 20th Century Fox, Beacon Communications

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 35 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Jimmy Rabbitte, Michael Aherne as Steven Clifford, as Imelda Quirke, as Natalie Murphy, Dave Finnegan as Mickah Wallace, as Bernie McGloughlin, as Outspan Foster, Félim Gormley as Dean Fay, Johnny Murphy as Joey 'The Lips' Fagan, Dick Massey as Billy Mooney, as Jimmy Rabbitte, Sr., Ken McCluskey as Derek Scully, as Mrs. Rabbitte

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