"Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us better people."
-- Roger Ebert, The Great Movies

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Commitments

  • Title:  The Commitments
  • Director:  Alan Parker
  • Date:  1991
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox, Beacon Communications Inc
  • Genre:  Musical, Drama
  • Cast:  Colm Meaney, Andrew Strong, Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher, Johnny Murphy
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"It has to be 'The' something -- all the best 60s bands were 'The' something."  -- Jimmy Rabbitte

"The Irish are the Blacks of Europe, and the Dubliners are the Blacks of  Ireland, and the Northside Dubliners are the Blacks of  Dublin."  -- Jimmy Rabbitte (explaining to the band why they're going to play "Dublin soul")

I love this movie!  The music, Motown, Blues, and Soul -- is great, both in the background and the numbers that The Commitments actually sing.  The movie is told from the point of  view of  Jimmy, an Irish teenager / young 20-something who is fascinated by the music business and wants to get out of the poverty he's living in.  However, rather than pulling at the heartstrings, or telling Jimmy's story in a sad way -- Jimmy tells his own story by interviewing himself, answering questions from the unseen or heard "Terry", like he's become the success he's always envisioned.

The film starts with Jimmy deciding to form a band -- he puts an ad in the paper and starts gathering up a group of  people for the band -- mostly people he knows, some who come to him, and even a few he's heard sing -- at weddings, in church, etc, and puts together the band.  However, the montage sequence of the open auditions is hilarious -- singers, musicians, and band fronts-people of all descriptions show up at his house and just start singing or naming their "influences".  It's great.

The band begins to come together and Jimmy invites in a girl he knows, her friend who he thinks is gorgeous, and the two bring a third friend -- becoming the back-up singers or "Commitment-ettes".  They also get to perform several Motown-inspired numbers in the film (think Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross and the Supremes).  He also finds an incredible lead singer, Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong), who's rude and dirty-mouthed, but can really sing.  He also finds a sax player, drum player, and piano player.  Finishing out the band is a trumpet player who's old enough to be the father to most of  people in the group -- but claims to have played with all the greats, even the Beatles.  Jimmy believes all of Joey Fagan's stories.

First rehearsing over a pool hall, then slowly getting gigs, things seem to be building up to a slow rise to success.  There first gig is a community center -- which falls apart when the overly-excited Deco somehow manages to cause an electric explosion on the "stage".  As a result, Derek needs a run to the E/R, but ends up OK and unhurt.

Each gig seems to get better and better -- but tensions erupt between members of  the band.  And at their best gig, as the group sounds their most professional, and an agent even approaches Jimmy to sign them with a small record label -- the personal conflicts boil over.  When Wilson Pickett fails to show to jam with the group, like everyone was depending on, and Joey had said would happen, it all falls apart.

In the end, unlike other films with this type of structure -- The Commitments don't become the next big thing.  They don't even become a small success, everything falls apart.  What makes the film great is it's unpredictability, and it's sense of atmosphere.  These kids are poor, the poorest of  the poor -- thus Jimmy's statement about the Irish being the "Blacks of  Europe", and as working-class poor kids, music is one of  the few ways out.  And that doesn't even work for this group of  misfits who just have bad luck.  Something happens at each of  their gigs, until the final one features some of  the best music - and some of  the worst personal interaction, as the girls are all fighting because Joey's slept with all of them, the drummer and Deco can't stand each other, the saxophonist would rather play jazz, etc.

Finally, there is a lot of  humor in the film, too.  The description may sound grim, but it isn't a grim movie.  I enjoyed it -- and I continue to enjoy it where ever I see it.  There are lots of  quips, and even character humor.  For example, Colm Meaney, Jimmy's Da, is an Elvis fan -- his reactions to the "auditions" are priceless.

And everywhere and everyone in the film is playing music or singing or dancing -- from the granny with her violin, to Meaney singing "Unchained Melody", to traditional Irish songs sung or played by street musicians.  The background music that's mostly Motown is also fantastic, as is the music actually sung by The Commitments.

This is an Irish movie, filmed completely in Ireland, yet the Irish teenagers, especially Jimmy, the band's manager, love Motown and identify with the rhythm of  Soul.  It's also great fun.  The characters are sharply drawn and sympathetic.  The music is great.  The background Motown/blues/soul music is excellent.  The music sung by The Commitments is also excellent.  And the storyline really sings.

Musical Numbers

Mustang Sally
Too Many Fish in the Sea
Mr. Pitiful
Bye Bye Baby
Show Me
Take Me to the River
The Dark End of  the Street
Hard to Handle
Chain of  Fools
Mustang  Sally
I Never Loved a Man
Try a Little Tenderness
In The Midnight Hour

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dante's Peak

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