The Commitments (1991)

2009-03-30 11:48
 
The Commitments

"Say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud."

So goes the rallying cry of The Commitments, the ragtag bunch of working-class musicians who make up the band in Alan Parker’s early 90s classic. The fact that they’re white and from the wrong part of Dublin doesn’t matter: in their hearts, they have soul.

It’s an apt analogy for the movie as well. Substantially flawed, scrappy and shot from the hip, it’s no masterpiece of filmmaking – but it’s got a lot of soul. And sometimes that’s all you need.

The story is told from the perspective of Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), a wannabe band manager with a great vision. Seeing as north Dublin is home to blue-collar workers and council estates, it makes sense that the band should be playing the music truest to their circumstances – soul music, as formulated by James Brown and Wilson Pickett. The only problem is that it’s a tough task finding musicians in Ireland who can play honest American soul music, and the auditions he conducts are some of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Jimmy’s plans eventually show some promise when he discovers Joey 'The Lips' Fagan (Johnny Murphy), a trumpet player who’s jammed with all the greats. In a case of life imitating art, a real musical discovery came in the form of Andrew Strong, who plays loutish lead singer, Deco Cuffe. His father was originally asked to audition for the role, and he brought his 16-year-old son along.

It was the younger Strong who landed the role, and who blew audiences away when they heard the gravelly voice of man three times his age emanate from his burly frame. You’d think he was at least a decade older by looking at him, and when he really lets rip, there’s no doubt that this is his true calling. Strong went on to launch a musical career after The Commitments was released – indeed, the whole band played a number of tours in the wake of the film’s success.

Alan Parker is clearly in his element when making musical films (his résumé includes hits such as Fame, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Evita) and it shows. The scenes when the band first starts piecing together their songs – progressing from creating an ungodly noise to powerful music – offer the film’s most mesmerising moments. It’s also where we see the interactions of the characters (sometimes sweet, sometimes chafing) and where the seeds for their downfall are sown. As far as plotlines go, it’s all a bit thin, but I suppose nobody ever really needed a reason for making a beautiful noise. And it certainly is beautiful: "Try a Little Tenderness" is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

The music certainly captured the attention of the world, and propelled the film from low-budget project to international phenomenon. At one point in the early 90s it seemed that every household had a copy of the album and every party played "Mustang Sally". Who cares if a bunch of whiteys from Ireland had co-opted American music – they brought it back into the limelight and made soul music cool again.

Look past the wooden acting and the flimsy plot. Forget about some clunky lines of dialogue. The Commitments is all about honesty: showing north Dublin in all its squalid glory, and a bunch of losers who find a way to transcend it - and that’s a story that resonates with anybody who’s got soul.


A bit of trivia: [Source: IMDB.com]

- The film runs for 118 minutes. In that time, the word "fuck" is used 145 times.

- The movie was adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by Booker Prize-winning Irish author Roddy Doyle. The Commitments forms part of a series of three novels by Doyle, collectively published as The Barrytown Trilogy, which chronicle the trials and tribulations of the Rabbitte family. The other two novels in the series – The Snapper and The Van – have also been made into successful feature films.

- The Corrs got their start by auditioning for the film, and they each won small roles. Andrea Corr plays Jimmy's little sister Sharon. Jim Corr is part of the Avant-Garde-A-Clue Band. Caroline Corr appears in the audience during the performance of "I Never Loved A Man". Finally, Sharon Corr can be seen playing violin with the country & western band that Bernie joins at the end of the film. John Hughes, the film's musical co-ordinator, later became The Corrs' band manager.

- Glen Hansard, who plays ginger-haired guitarist Outspan Foster, gained worldwide acclaim for his role as a lovesick troubadour in the indie movie Once (2006). Hansard and his Once co-star Markéta Irglová went on to win the Oscar for Best Song in 2008 for "Falling Slowly".

- Alan Parker originally wanted Van Morrison for the role of Joey 'The Lips' Fagan

- A sequel was proposed for the film which would have reunited the band in New York City.

- In a 2005 poll, The Commitments was voted the best Irish film of all time.


Memorable quotes:

Jimmy Rabbitte:
What do you play?
Visitor: I used to play football in school.
Jimmy Rabbitte: I mean, what instrument?
Visitor: I don't.
Jimmy Rabbitte: What are you doing here, then?
Visitor: Well, I saw everyone else lining up, so, uh - I thought you were selling drugs.

Joey: Are you doing what I said? Are you thinking of that reed as a woman's nipple?
Dean Fay: I am. But, I'm a little embarrassed, she's still in school.
Joey: Maybe you should set your sights a little higher? My trumpet was always Gina Lollobrigida.
Dean Fay: [thinking] How about Kim Basinger?
Joey: [holds his hand up to his chest as though cupping a breast] Is she...?
Dean Fay: Oh, yeah!
Joey: Right. Pick a nipple and try again.

Jimmy Rabbitte, Sr: Is this the band then? Betcha U2 are shittin' themselves.


Neither black, nor American, a motley crew of working class Dublin no-hopers somehow went on to dominate the world of soul music in the early 90s. And a classic was born.

Patrick 2009/03/29 3:14 PM
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Great movie! When I was a teenager in Ireland all those years ago, Andrew Strong's father fronted a band called Rob Strong & the Rockets. They should have been up there with Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher.
Katerina Angius 2009/03/29 3:46 PM
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The song "try a little tenderness" is excellent.I actually cried,it describes so acurate the lifes of many women.
Rene 2009/03/30 3:55 PM
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Aren’t the Irish the funniest filmmakers around? I think The Commitments is proof of that – never laughed so much and that was just reading the book on which the movie’s based. Wonderful characters, amazing music, and a universal story that never ever gets old. Gets my vote.
preshen govender 2009/03/30 4:54 PM
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I love swing still practice it today
Giovanni Raffa 2009/11/17 3:44 PM
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I really enjoyed this film, absolute classic!
jeremy 2009/11/17 3:57 PM
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I was working on 5fm as Alex Jay's news presenter when the movie came out. Alex went to the preview and came in the next morning absolutely blown away by the movie. I went the next night and got continually jabbed in the ribs because I couldn't stop the foot tapping and singing along. You can't help but love the music - and it's a movie as fresh now as it was then. One of my two all-time favourites!
keith 2009/11/18 6:44 AM
To quote a one liner, fooking deadly, magic movie, seen it dozens of times, my kids love it.
Ruan 2009/11/19 11:10 AM
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This is my favorite movie of all time. Considering that the majority of the players were amateurs (as actors) I think the acting was first class. The ending is very poetic, enhancing the core message of the movie and why they started the band in the first place. You don't always need money to lift you from the gutter.......
anna 2009/11/19 1:38 PM
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Love love this film - I watched it again the other day, and because the music is already classic soul, it doesn't age.
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