When I think of great rock bands, I think of The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Metallica and our boys from Ireland, U2. But when I think of Irish music, I think of traditional songs like “Danny Boy”, Sinead O’Conner (though I don’t know why, seeing as she’s best known for covering a Prince song and tearing up a picture of the Pope) and The Cranberries. Riverdance also comes to mind. Maybe I’m just out of touch with anything outside of classic rock. Maybe I’m just trying to BS an intro to this review. Either way, Day 6 of St. Patrick’s week finds us watching “The Commitments” – out now on DVD from 20th Century Fox. Alan Parker’s 1991 dramedy about a Dublin soul band is a rocking good time… and Michael Flatley never even makes an appearance.
Ok, ok… no more “Lord of the Dance” jokes. If you’ve never seen this movie, it’s all R&B and Soul. Reminiscent of those lads from Liverpool and their fascination with early Rock and Roll, Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) obsesses over the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and James Brown. Tired of the Dublin music scene, he puts an ad in the newspaper which reads: “Have you got soul? Then the world’s hardest working band is looking for you.” Everybody and their mother answers the classified, before Jimmy decides on a band of misfits with seemingly no musical experience. The exception being an older gentleman named Joey “The Lips” Fagan (Johnny Murphy), a trumpet player with dubious claims of having played with virtually every famed performer from Elvis to little Stevie Wonder. Adding three sexy backup singers to the mix, “The Commitments” are born. Taking their act on the road in a Mister Chippy van, the band’s popularity grows. They seem poised for stardom before egos get in the way and threaten to destroy everything they’ve worked for.
Though “The Commitments” predates it by several years, the story is virtually the same as Tom Hanks’ “That Thing you Do!” – certainly a favorite of mine. Instead of the “one hit wonders”, you could say this is the tale of the “failed commitments.” The first film adaptation of Irish author Roddy Doyle’s “Barrytown Trilogy”, the movie stays centered in Dublin. The band, trying to appeal to the working man with their blue collar beats, lives on a steady diet of soul. This gives us an awesomely gritty soundtrack including covers of “Mustang Sally”, “Chain of Fools” and “The Midnight Hour”. From what I hear, some of the film’s cast still tour as “The Commitments” and it’s not something that’s hard to believe. Andrew Strong, who plays the lead singer, Deco, has a voice like Joe Cocker… and he’s only sixteen! Truly amazing (though he hasn’t acted in anything since.) The cast band, having performed most of the music is incredible and had me walking away from the film ready to buy the soundtrack.
Alan Parker, known for directing the equally Irish “Angela’s Ashes” and the Irish in name “Busgy Malone”, does an amazing job with his actors. Most of the cast was made up of musicians and not actors – an intentional choice made so they could play their own music. You’d never know it though. Robert Arkins, not a professional actor, nails the lead character Jimmy Rabbitte. He’s passionate about his music and able to assemble and believably inspire this mismatched group of kids. The aforementioned Andrew Strong is funny as the brutish Deco and Johnny Murphy brings a spaciness to Joey that will keep you constantly guessing over how full of shit he is. While the book was primarily a comedy, Parker brings a touch of emotion to the film version. It’s not heavy, mind you. Just a bit more three dimensional than the flat “rise and fall” story that we all know so well. It should be noted that the dialogue heavy novel was adapted by Doyle himself for an initial draft of the script. So despite any changes, the film version doesn’t stray far from its popular source material.
“The Commitments” earns 4 out of 4 angels. I’m pretty surprised there hasn’t been a Blu-Ray release yet, but it’s not worth waiting for one to arrive. With great picture and sound quality and loaded with extras, this is certainly a DVD worth the purchase. It’s just so much fun to watch and I’ll bet you five you’re not alive if you don’t want to get up and dance when that band plays. Just don’t Riverdance, it’s not appropriate.
The Commitments (Two-Disc Collector’s Edition)
Release Date: 3/16/04
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Screen Format: Anamorphic 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1(English), Dolby Digital 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Runtime: 118 minutes
- “The Making of The Commitments“
- “The Commitments: Looking Back”
- “Dublin Soul”: the working class and changing face of Dublin
- Making-of featurette
- “Treat Her Right” music video with introduction by Alan Parker and Robert Arkins
- Original songs by cast members: “Before the Next Tear Drop Falls” by Andrew Strong and “Taking On the World” by Robert Arkins
- Still gallery