Hey Stephen here, AKA MrSteJ with another film review, this time The Commitments.
The Commitments came out in 1991 and is a film about the trials and tribulations of a group of unemployed musicians forming a soul band in Dublin, Ireland in the 80s.
It was directed by Alan Parker who’d previously made Bugsy Malone, Fame, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and went onto make Evita, so, this was a director who had a keen musical interest, let’s just say. He even has a little bit of a cameo in the film in the form of a cutout along with an “Alan Parker week” display in a scene where the band are in a video shop. I suppose it’s a little bit Hitchcock-esque putting yourself in your own movie, but I guess why wouldn’t you?
The film was actually adapted from a 1987 book of the same name by Roddy Dowel. I’ve not read the book myself, but upon doing research for this review It was interesting to find out that it’s actually part of a pentalogy (meaning a 5-book series) which continues the story of the main family. A couple of those were also adapted into films.
The plot of the film is pretty simple really. Jimmy Rabbitte, an aspiring manager played by Robert Arkins, wants to form a band that speaks the language of the streets, be about struggle and sex, namely soul music but Dublin soul music. This is quite a juxtaposing and jarring view to how Dublin is portrayed in the film, which is quite traditional, maybe even stereotypical. The point is these two things; Dublin and Soul, shouldn’t go together.
Jimmy sets out to find the ‘hardest working musicians in Dublin’ for his band which leads to some really funny moments when people start auditioning for roles at his house. Almost one by one we’re introduced to the band members and we get to see the Commitments absolutely shine on stage.
The inevitable struggle comes when egos start to clash, and members of the band want to express their own identities. I suppose it was bound to happen when you advertise for big talents, as you usually get big egos too.
There’s a lot to like about this film. I find it to be quite a realistic portrayal of how a band gets together and how it can ultimately break up. Back in the day I set up my own little carpeted cutoff area in my band’s rehearsal space to express my own identity, we even had a rule saying ‘leave your egos at the door’ as if that ever worked!
The film is really funny, and my highlight as I’ve mentioned are the auditions at Jimmy’s home. The dialogue although mostly colorful and sarcastic, has a youthful charm to it which you just can’t help but laugh out loud to throughout. I also really liked the Elvis obsessed character of Jimmy’s Dad played by Colm Meaney (who’ll always be Chief O’Brien to me). In that household he treats Elvis as God which leads to some hilarious moments when he reacts to any comments against Elvis as blasphemy.
The band as a whole are mostly realistic and quite relatable. They’re passionate about what they were doing and couldn’t see an alternative as getting a job seemed impossible or improbable. Joey’s words at the end to Jimmy were really emotional and brought the journey to a satisfying close. I suppose it resonated with me as I could relate to it with some of the musical chapters in my life.
I have a slight issue with how women are portrayed in the film, especially Imelda played by Angeline Ball. She’s basically just there to be the object of affection for the men as pretty much every scene she enters, they just gawp over her and it’s kind of boring, although I get it, they’re young and all that but it did put me in mind of American Pie I suppose.
I was also a little confused about the relationships in the film. For example, we know that Jimmy really likes Imelda, but she has a boyfriend. There’s a point later on where walks out on the boyfriend to play a gig so I’d think hey, she might end up with Jimmy, but it turns out later she sleeps with Joey, who’s actually been working his way through all of the girls. Then at the end I was left thinking Natalie liked Jimmy?! Anyway, you get my point I think, but I felt it was all a bit unclear. Maybe it was supposed to be as erratic as the band itself.
Another thing that kind of confused me was how they were getting press. I mean, yeah, the band are good, but they were a good covers band, so I thought it was quite strange that they were getting written about alongside bigger mainstream bands such as U2 and the Boomtown Rats.
One final slight issue is how instantly great the band are. Sure, the ad that Jimmy puts out asks for the hardest working band, so we know he’s after talented people. But the majority of the people he gets in are friends. When they initially start to practice, they’re really good apart from some slight backing singer issues but the way they talk about it you’d think they were god awful! I suppose to be fair though, the film would run way too long if we had to go through as many practice sessions as I’d need to get to that standard.
Let’s talk about the music. It’s just fantastic. You most likely know every song going in as they’re all classics, but the performances are amazing too. I especially think the front man Decco played by Andrew Strong is the standout here. Though he’s probably the main destructive force within the band, leading to most of its struggles, his vocal talent can’t be denied, he has the pipes and on-stage charisma for the job.
There’s a scene at the start where we’re briefly introduced to him as he’s drunkenly singing ‘Letter from America’ on karaoke and I was instantly taken aback by the power and emotion of his voice. It’s their version of ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ as a band that knocked me back for six though, it pretty much showed them at their peak in the film.
There were four soundtrack releases put out – a Volume 1, 2, a ‘best of’ and a rarities album. I think it’s the first one I’ve liked best as it works better as a companion piece for the film as newer tracks were recorded for the other volumes. They’re all available on streaming services and you can get the first volume on Vinyl and CD without much hassle .
I do wish there was a version of that Letter from America on there, but I guess that was too recent and not right for the genre.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that as the film featured actual musicians it’s interesting what some of them went on to do.
For instance, front man Deco, played by Andrew Strong is still performing and releasing music. He’s notably toured with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Prince and Elton John. So not too shabby!
Then there’s guitarist Outspan Foster, played by Glen Hansard. Now I was actually quite shocked when I realised it was him in the film. He’s the front man of a successful band called The Frames and quite notably for me at least, he was the leading actor in one of my favourite films, Once. That’s a film I’ll end up getting to review eventually but just know, he’s brilliant in it.
And I’ll just mention one more, Andrea Corr. She plays Jimmy’s sister Sharon in the film and to be honest, she’s hardly in it! If you weren’t aware, she had really big success with the band, The Corrs.
Overall, I really like this film and fully recommend it, especially if you’re a musician. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid so doing this review was great to have a reason to give it another watch. It was interesting watching it now, having been in bands and all that as I wouldn’t have even been thinking about making music back then. There’s a lot more to relate too, I guess.
I see a lot of truth in the film as a musician and though I think it’s a little rough around the edges in terms of character development, it still really holds up. The characters feel realistic and the music and performances are really fantastic too. Also, like I’ve said it’s still really funny.
I have to admit it feels quite downbeat at the end, what with the band breaking up but Joey’s final words to Jimmy give the time spent some weight and meaning. I think I’m going to recite this when I get lost thinking about past music projects. This way it’s poetry.
Stick around for more music related film reviews coming soon!