Time for people of a certain age to start feeling old. It’s been a quarter of a century since director Alan Parker introduced us to an unlikely soul combo whose legacy still lives on via a hit stage show and countless concerts. So while their onscreen fortunes turned out to be mixed, The Commitments‘ place in popular culture is assured.
Opening with a bustling Dublin street market with second hand goods, fiddle players and horses, this marks itself out from the blockbusters of the time as a gritty take on Roddy Doyle‘s source novel. Fast-talking wannabe music mogul Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) has a simple idea: reasoning that the oppressed Irish are “the blacks of Europe”, he wants to assemble a world class soul outfit from local talent. But like the best band stories the road to success is paved with false starts, egos and copious amounts of drink and swears. In fact the production may hold the record as the most expletive-laden popular movie of all time, if not the twentieth century.
Sitcom stalwarts Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were the perfect pairing to guide Doyle’s salty characters and quotable dialogue to the big screen (they even manage a cheeky reference to their defining show The Likely Lads along the way). Saxophone player Félim Gormley explains how he came by his instrument – “My uncle gave me it when his lung collapsed.” – and lead singer Andrew Strong gets the job after Arkins sees him giving an impromptu drunk performance at a wedding, one his star turn can’t even remember doing!
What contributes to the longevity of The Commitments is Parker’s decision to go with unknown actors. Some of them went on to greater things (notably Bronagh Gallagher, who appeared in The Phantom Menace) but on the whole this was their first and only shot at world domination. This means the film still has that layer of authenticity which could have been diminished if you spent two hours spotting the famous faces. The cast are likeable and clearly revelling in the easy going yet edgy atmosphere Parker creates. They’re all good, but special mention must be given to Gallagher and Johnny Murphy‘s Joey “The Lips” Fagan, who gets his pick of the women and who may or may not be a raging fantasist. Then there’s Strong, with his weathered vocals and extraordinary range of facial expressions.
The power behind the story is the filmmaker’s ability to deliver a convincing band, as well as conveying the rough and ready nature of creating musical fusion. Whether winging it through a chaotic set or flowing together like cream and coffee, you buy into their tale, and even hope they find the notoriety they crave. It’s a particularly inspirational movie for a generation all-encompassed by the Simon Cowell approach to talent nurturing and speaks to viewers on all levels.
For this milestone, a solid range of extras has been added for the release. Parker himself is on commentary duties and the way it all came together is chronicled via several documentaries from past and present. If you Try A Little Tenderness you’ll find yourself rooting for this Chain Of Fools, whose distinctive journey will keep you laughing through to The Midnight Hour. I’ll shut the f*** up now.
This review first appeared on THN.