Alan Parker’s The Commitments might be 30 years old but the film still packs the same mighty punch that it did when it was first released in 1991. Based on Roddy Doyle’s book of the same name, there’s a wit and energy to Parker’s film that makes it timeless. The film sees Robert Arkins’ Jimmy Rabbitte working hard to build a soul band in 1990s Dublin (the last place on earth you’d do such a thing). He takes on a selection of talented but clueless ne’er-do-wells and puts together a band, but personalities clash and comedy ensues. The Commitments charts the band’s rise and its inevitable fall and we see the trials and tribulations in-between.
It’s a testament to Alan Parker (and the script by Roddy Doyle, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) that The Commitments still holds firm a quarter of a century after its release. The witty script never tips over into full blown comedy and this gives the dramatic moments enough weight to stop the film feeling light and fluffy. The soul music is fantastic – and the film went on to have a best-selling soundtrack album. Parker filled his film with a selection of unknown musicians, makings sue that their casting has the right mix for the characters and many of them went on to have musical careers. Arguably the most successful of them was Glen Hansard, who went on to star in Once, which won him the Academy Award for Best Song in 2007. The Commitments became a cults hit in the US where it grossed $14.9 million at the box office – impressive coin for a low budget film back in 1991.
What ultimately makes The Commitments a success is the no-bullshit Irishness of it all. The characters and the situations feel real and there isn’t a need to sugar-coat it or change the way the characters speak to each other. The language may be foul but, (as we would say in Ireland) ‘banter is banter’ and there’s a poetry to this lexicon that Alan Parker captures with a wondrous sense of reportage. This is the real Dublin.
A musical, a comedy and a drama – The Commitments is anything you want it to be. Above all it’s a well put together piece of entertainment with a great sense of energy. Alan Parker has cast the film to perfection, the music is great and the script is filled with a variety of colourful flavours. The Commitments is well worth checking out.