The Commitments (1991)
February 13, 2018 7:13 PM - Subscribe

When Jimmy Rabbitte wants to start a band, he has open auditions at his house.

WaPo: The film, which follows the roller coaster ups and downs of a group of poor Northside Dubliners who come together to form an Irish soul band, gets into your blood like an Aretha Franklin song; it's a transfusion of pure joy, raw and earthy and transcendently funky -- the best rock-and-roll movie since "A Hard Day's Night."

What "The Commitments" has is that rarest of all things; it's got soul. Soul, in fact, is the movie's ruling principle, its Holy Grail and its nirvana. Soul is what the band's all about, says Jimmy (Robert Arkins), the ambitious young music lover who whips the group into shape; and soul is what Dublin's all about. "You're working class, aren't you?" he asks his bass and lead guitarists. "Would be if there was any work," comes the answer. "The Irish are the blacks of Europe," he tells them, "and the Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, and the Northsiders are the blacks of Dublin. So say it loud, 'I'm black and I'm proud.' "

NYTimes: As in his earlier "Fame," Mr. Parker immerses his audience in a world in which popular art amounts to a communal high, a means of achieving identity and a great escape from the abundant problems of everyday life. As in "Fame," he does this with a mixture of annoying glibness and undeniable high-voltage style.

The sound and the setting have changed, but these two films are at heart very similar. What Mr. Parker has done, in effect, is to remake "Fame" in a different language. Once again, a taste for slickness gives his film an air of unreality for all its ostentatious grit, but once again the energy level is so pumped up that it barely matters. "The Commitments" finds Mr. Parker again doing what he does expertly: assembling a group of talented newcomers, editing snippets of their exploits into a hyperkinetic jumble, and filling the air with song.

Roger Ebert: Parker introduces a Dickensian gallery of characters, throws them all into the pot, keeps them talking, and makes them sing a lot. The result is a movie that doesn’t lead anywhere in particular and may not have a profound message - other than that it’s hell at the top, however low the top may be. But the movie is filled with life and energy, and the music is honest. “The Commitments” is one of the few movies about a fictional band that’s able to convince us the band is real and actually plays together.

Rolling Stone: The film is best when Parker just lets the cast rip. Andrew Strong, a beefy dynamo of sixteen, plays Deco — a singer with the manners of a pig and the voice of a fallen angel. The fiftyish Johnny Murphy, a stage actor and nonmusician, makes sly work of trumpet player Joey the Lips, a lying coot who galls the boyos by shagging the three sexy backup singers — Imelda (Angeline Ball), Bernie (Bronagh Gallagher) and Natalie (Maria Doyle). All three women make distinct impressions, but Doyle has a haunting loveliness. The film's best performance comes from Robert Arkins, 21, as the band's flinty manager, Jimmy Rabbitte. It's ironic that Arkins — who fronts his own band (the Chryslers) — has a straight acting role, but his face expressively mirrors the band's changing fortunes. The film has the same eloquence when the Commitments allow their feelings to seep into the music in such numbers as "Mustang Sally" and "In the Midnight Hour." But Parker keeps going for the glitz. He may have shot The Commitments in Ireland, but his soul never left Hollywood.

Entertainment Weekly: The musical performances are first-rate. Andrew Strong, who plays the lead singer, has a robust voice and a charismatically beefy presence; he does as impassioned an Otis Redding impression as you’re likely to hear. At the same time, there’s something deeply retrograde — indeed, a trifle absurd — about the notion that a band like the Commitments, who play nothing but conventional, bar-band versions of some of the most famous soul songs ever recorded (”Try a Little Tenderness,” ”Chain of Fools,” ”Mustang Sally”), could cause much of a stir. From the Beatles and the Stones to blue-eyed-soul bands like Culture Club and Simply Red, musicians in and around the U.K. have, for over a generation, incorporated the sound and spirit of American black music. The idea that the Commitments are doing something revolutionary by ”bringing” soul to Dublin is downright insulting. In Parker’s hands, soul music becomes little more than a self-serving metaphor — an easy symbol for ”commitment” and integrity. His film celebrates musical daring without having a shred of it.

Trailer

Now streaming on Netflix

Soundtrack

How we made The Commitments

The Commitments Turns 25: Ireland’s Shortest-Lived Hit Band

Whatever happened to the Commitments?

The Commitments: Still great after 25 years

The Commitments: Where are they now?

Andrew Strong: Life after The Commitments

Filming locations
posted by MoonOrb (27 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is one of my alltime favorite movies (and soundtracks) and I still quote it a ridiculous amount and it breaks my heart when people don't pick up on it.
posted by TwoStride at 10:05 PM on February 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


Agreed.
posted by tangerine at 10:11 PM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


I like the observation that The Commitments were not exactly cutting edge from an artistic point of view (even in an era when the folk memory of soul songs from the 60s was much more immediate than today) . They had chosen to copy originals they loved but which it was not possible to outshine. They were more like really good wedding band.

I note that that - I believe internationally - there is now a genre of wedding bands which comprise a loose ensemble of very good musicians who are corralled into ad-hoc ensembles by customer-facing manager types - with a single nominal band name. All of them will do 'Mustang Sally' or 'Treat her right' - or, for that matter 'Uptown Funk' stunningly well - but they will also sit in the background doing a hour of Kenny G numbers or lead off a first dance with 'You've lost that Loving Feeling' if you really insist. Somebody needs to make a film about them.
posted by rongorongo at 1:08 AM on February 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm fond of the Barrytown trilogy (both in book and film version) but I've always thought that not having the movies (The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van) set up as an actual trilogy was a missed opportunity... particularly since Colm Meaney plays Rabbitte Sr in the 3 movies, but with his character's name changed (Fox owned the Rabbittes apparently). Add Sing Street (with Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Once (with Glen Hansard) and we could have an entire Dublin Cinematic Universe.
posted by elgilito at 2:04 AM on February 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


I saw this when I was too young to get into it, but I remember reading somewhere that, for a time, it held the world record in film for occurrences of the word "fuck."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:38 AM on February 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I believe the word is “fook.”
posted by valkane at 3:49 AM on February 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


And And! And
posted by doctornecessiter at 7:01 AM on February 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


It blew my mind at the time that Andrew Strong (the dude who played the lead singer Deco) was only about 16 when they cast him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:44 AM on February 14, 2018


And and fooking and.

Colm Meaney is secretly the star of this, as he was the whole Barrytown series.
posted by maxsparber at 11:05 AM on February 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


colm meaney is secretly the star of all things, even die hard 2
posted by entropicamericana at 11:31 AM on February 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


I had a pet fish in high school that was a rescue from a friend - he kept attacking the other fish. So of course I named him Mickah "don't fook with me" Wallace. Bless his aquatic soul.
posted by librarianamy at 12:19 PM on February 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


I should watch this again, all I really remember is Colm Meaney's great and the fight I had with my ladyfriend at the time* about whether or not Charlize Theron† was in this.

* At least I think it was my ladyfriend at the time; I also got into an argument with my wife once when she made us watch Hot Fuzz thinking it was Reno 911!, so things get jumbled.

†Goddammit Jennifer, this movie came out in 1991! There is a resemblance, but Charlize Theron only got going in 1996. Jesus, why did it always have to be an argument with you?!?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:07 PM on February 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I just saw Sing Street the other weekend and it really felt like it could have been an unofficial prequel to The Commitments.
posted by TwoStride at 1:45 PM on February 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Arkins/Rabbitte sings "Treat Her Right", the song that starts the movie in darkness (I wanna tell you a story...), in case you're wondering why the band never played that song in the movie even though it was on the soundtrack.

What's it about? I'm fooked if I know, Terry. But I'll watch it any chance I get.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:11 PM on February 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


it held the world record in film for occurrences of the word "fuck."

I can vouch for the accuracy of this. Most of the Irish side of my family live in or near the north Dublin suburb that Barrytown is based on (and yes, it is a Steely Dan reference), and they all swear like troopers. As my 92-year-old aunt used to say "after all, "fuck" is an Irish word". I don't think it is actually, but We've adopted it enthusiastically.

Incidentally, you also hear "feck" a lot, when people are trying to tone it down a bit, but my mother also used it to mean petty theft, as in "I fecked that cardigan off the floor at the jumble sale". Maybe it is an Irish word.
posted by Fuchsoid at 3:29 PM on February 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I still quote it a ridiculous amount and it breaks my heart when people don't pick up on it.

Likewise, although the silver platter moment of seeing someone and his horse waiting for the lift has not yet come for me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:54 PM on February 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


I just saw Sing Street the other weekend and it really felt like it could have been an unofficial prequel to The Commitments.

I flat-out love Sing Street, and I have some friends that are fellow Commitments fans that I've sold on watching Sing Street by saying virtually that same thing..."It's The Commitments but with high school kids and early-80s pop, plus Natalie from The Commitments is the main kid's mom."

And I didn't realize it until recently but Glen Hansard has a writing credit on the song "Go Now" (the one Adam Levine sings) from the end of Sing Street, so there's another Commitments connection.
posted by doctornecessiter at 5:40 AM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's a good movie, and I think a pretty good depiction of what it's like to be in a band, and the way in which a band that seems to be at the peak of its cohesiveness and greatness on stage can nonetheless be so dysfunctional that it kind of has to break up.

One thing my sister pointed out, which I think about whenever I think about this movie, and which lessens my enjoyment of it a bit, is that this came out a few years after Mississippi Burning, which Alan Parker also directed, and it seemed like it might be a bit of a pattern in the way these movies, which are about black culture (the civil rights movement, soul music), made the story about white people. Of course, Parker is far from the only person in Hollywood who does this.
posted by jwgh at 6:52 AM on February 15, 2018


movies, which are about black culture (the civil rights movement, soul music), made the story about white people.

I wonder if Parker realized this, since the scene in which Jimmy instructs the band members to proclaim "I'm black and I'm proud" takes place in a video store with a poster for Mississippi Burning displayed prominently behind them.

(It's much more likely that that was just a quick in-joke rather than an acknowledgement of awareness that he was co-opting black culture twice in a row, but I guess it's possible...I mean at least in this movie they do come right out and say "Yes, we realize that we're white people co-opting black culture.")

P.S. I just looked at Parker's filmography, and I was wrong: Mississippi Burning and The Commitments weren't back-to-back...He did Come See The Paradise in between them. That one was about Japanese culture with a white main character, so...Way to mix it up, I guess.
posted by doctornecessiter at 7:33 AM on February 15, 2018


And I didn't realize it until recently but Glen Hansard has a writing credit on the song "Go Now" (the one Adam Levine sings) from the end of Sing Street, so there's another Commitments connection.

Somewhere I read a fairly credible argument that "Once" could be seen as a tie-in to The Commitments as well. To wit:

After the band breaks up, Outspan and Derek go back to busking.
Once takes place 20+ years after The Commitments, and Glen Hansard's character is the same number of years older.
We never learn the name of Glen Hansard's character in Once - he's simply called "Guy".
Therefore: it's possible that "Guy" from Once is still Outspan, who's still busking all these years later, and has since gotten better and is ready to strike out on his own.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:40 AM on February 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


This was one of my dad's favorite movies! He quoted it all the time, along with Bono's "Am I boogin' ya? I didn't mean to boog ya" from Rattle and Hum (?). I am working on a memorial playlist for him and it definitely has some songs from The Commitments on it.
posted by apricot at 3:18 PM on February 15, 2018


P.S. I just looked at Parker's filmography, and I was wrong: Mississippi Burning and The Commitments weren't back-to-back...He did Come See The Paradise in between them. That one was about Japanese culture with a white main character, so...Way to mix it up, I guess.

It's a little weird to realize that Alan Parker won six, count 'em, Oscars. While his movies (at least the ones that I've seen) aren't bad, exactly, with the exception of Mississippi Burning, which was roundly and rightly criticized not just for whitewashing the civil rights movement but implying that the FBI was a friend of that movement (uh, no), they also didn't seem that great, or at least to the extent that he added that much to some great source material. (To make what's maybe a pretty obvious comparison, Martin Scorsese didn't get his first directing Oscar until 2007, by which time Parker had already retired after a long and successful career.)

Likewise, The Commitments isn't a bad movie, and represents a lot of work on Parker's part--according to Wikipedia, he interviewed something like three thousand musicians from the Dublin area for the band--but it really does boil down to "white people sing and play black music, pretty well, for a short while", which is basically The Blues Brothers without the self-mythologizing or any actual black people. (That BB included the likes of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin was a deliberate choice on Dan Aykroyd's part, BTW--he was very conscious of the sorry history of the whitewashing of African-American music, including his own role in that.) Andrew Strong possibly could have made a plausible John Belushi if we'd ever gotten a decent Belushi biopic, instead of Wired. And, of course, as a diehard DS9 fan, I'm always down for Colm Meaney.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:07 AM on February 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Watching this film was a St. Paddy's Day tradition in my family for several years. Also I remember desperately trying to figure out where I knew Maria Doyle Kennedy from the first time I saw Orphan Black.

(Also MoonOrb, your posts kick major butt.)
posted by elsietheeel at 1:39 PM on February 17, 2018


They had chosen to copy originals they loved but which it was not possible to outshine.

Counterpoint: Andrew Strong's "Try a Little Tenderness" is better than Otis Redding's.

There. I said it.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:49 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I like the scene where they're watching James Brown at the TAMI Show and they're concerned he's been injured.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:55 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


(on rewatching) - Everybody remembers the music - but I love the sheer amount of background texture that Alan Parker conveys in this film. The opening scenes with the street market or the wedding are both tableaus of individual shots that each conveys a story (or a joke) in its own right; nothing wasted. Watch them 10 times and each will reveal a new detail. All this has got even better with age as the 1980s era Dublin word that has depicted has gone from being more or less contemporary to historic.
posted by rongorongo at 10:24 PM on February 21, 2018


I still marvel at the fact that Andrew Strong was like what, 17 years old when this came out? Blew my mind.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:27 PM on March 1, 2018


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