Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Alan Parker
Stars: Robert Arkins, Andrew Strong, Jimmy Murphy, Colm Meaney
Released 19th September 2016
“The world’s hardest working band” is back! Twenty five years since exploding onto cinema screens, Alan Parker’s ‘The Commitments’ returns with a special anniversary DVD – and it’s definitely worth celebrating. At the time, it was an unexpected hit with critics and audiences alike, for its edginess, for pushing the boundaries and bringing something new to movies about music. And there was its irresistibly raw energy …..
Based on Roddy Doyle’s book of the same name, it tells the story of a rag tag soul band from Dublin’s run-down North Side. Pulled together by would-be manager Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), they were a motley crew made up mainly of his friends. With the exceptions of singing bus conductor Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong) and trumpeter Joey “The Lips” Fagan (Johnny Murphy) who arrives on his moped, full of religious quotations and tales of working with soul legends. The band play several gigs and look like they’re on the up, but Jimmy’s being chased for money and cracks between the members of the band are starting to show.
The razor-sharp script was the result of a collaboration between Doyle himself and comedy legends Dick Clement and Ian LeFrenais and it’s rammed with great visual and verbal one-liners. Dublin’s North Side is portrayed as chaotic with kids running riot and trashing anything in sight. Painted in large letters on a wall is “Caution. Children At Play.” And the dialogue is just as crisp and free-flowing, bubbling with split-second retorts and curses. There are moments when it feels like you’re watching a forerunner of ‘Father Ted’: the woman in the church scraping away melted candle wax could be Mrs Doyle’s sister. And when it looks like the band is going to get proper management, the record label involved is Eejit Records. With a cameo from Parker as the sound engineer.
For all its ground-breaking style, the film didn’t totally throw convention out of the window. A long queue of unsuitable applicants for the band knock at Jimmy’s door – something we saw in ‘Sing Street’ earlier this year. But what sticks like glue in the memory is that raw energy and exuberance, most of it coming from the band themselves and not just when they’re singing. The cast was virtually unknown at the time and many of them have since pursued music careers rather than acting, but that lack of familiarity just added to the film’s freshness. Andrew Strong’s voice stands the test of time and, interestingly, his character is a convention in its own right, the great voice that comes out of somebody ugly. There’s also a couple of familiar faces. Colm Meaney as Jimmy’s Dad and devoted Elvis fan. And Johnny Murphy’s memorable Joey “The Lips” who simultaneously galvanises the band and undermines it. Are all his stories true? One moment, it’s doubtful, the next it looks likely. As he rides his moped into the wet Dublin night, we never really know for sure.
20/20 hindsight exposes the film’s reliance on conventions, but it also demonstrates that time hasn’t dulled its energy in the slightest. The reputation of ‘The Commitments’ lives on. If you’ve never seen it before, then it’s time you found out what you’ve been missing. You’ll be swept along by the gags and music. And if you remember it from the 90s, then it’s time to relish it all over again.