The Commitments
"16-year-old Andrew Strong has a voice that blows your socks off"

The problem with musical biopics is that the struggling years are great, but the good ole years are boring as hell. Alan Parker overcomes this, with a little help from Roddy Doyle, author of the book and one-third of the script, by scrapping the second half altogether and concentrating on birth pangs.

It's the story of an unemployed working-class Dublin lad, Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), who fancies his chances as the manager of a band. He persuades a couple of mates, who play at weddings in a poxy covers group, that they're wasting their talents and should become the nucleus of his new outfit.

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It's a big band - two guitars, keyboards, drums, sax, trumpet, lead vocal and three backup chick singers - and they're into Stax soul, not Sun rock. Choosing them takes ages. Parker uses a variation of the well-honed audition cliche, in which arbitrary wierdos, wallflowers and wet hens strut their stuff in 60 second sightbites, while Jimmy slams the door in their faces.

The girls are more interesting than the boys, if only because they fight less and look sexy. Once they learn their routines and find their voices, they perform better, too, although, 16-year-old Andrew Strong has a voice that blows your socks off. Bernie (Bronagh Gallagher), the budgie faced tykess ("I need this band more than anyone; I need something to look forward to"), who works on a chippie van and has the vocab of a dock labourer, is given the honour of a high-rise at home sequence - pregnant mum, kids everywhere, dirty washing, feeding baby - to show what poverty and the Catholic religion can do.

Deco (Strong), the front man, is gross and profane. He's a bus conductor, built like Meat Loaf, sings like Joe Cocker. Joey "The Lips" Fagan (pro-thesp Johnny Murphy), the trumpet player, who claims friendship with the greats, from Otis to Screaming Jay, rides a moped, is born again and runs through the dolls like Warren Beatty's alter ego, despite being old enough ("I'm 16 years younger than B B King") to be someone's granddad.

Their progression from garage goons to a class pub act is burdened by the usual baggage - sexist banter, jealousy, bad table manners, a lack of legal transport. They begin by being asked to think James Brown ("The Irish are the blacks of Europe") and end up believing they're ready to share a stage with Wilson Pickett.

The Commitments, the film, is disguised as low budget neo-realism, held together by professional people who understand Hollywood, and yet lacks the anarchic originality of younger minds. Cinema verite does not suit Parker's style. His previous efforts in this field were the exhilarating Fame and exasperating Pink Floyd: The Wall, neither realistic in any true sense.

As well as fine naturalistic acting by a mainly amateur cast and excellent Atlantic sounds, the film is buoyed by enthusiasm, raw energy and terrific music. Despite reservations when it first came out, this has definitely stood the test of time, which only emphasises the reliability of Parker's cinematic instincts.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2005
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The trials and tribulations of a budding working-class Dublin soul band.
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Director: Alan Parker

Writer: Roddy Doyle, Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, based on the novel by Roddy Doyle

Starring: Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher, Andrew Strong, Dave Finnegan, Johnny Murphy, Felim Gormley, Colm Meaney, Glen Hansard, Dick Massey, Kenneth McCluskey

Year: 1991

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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