“Soul grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite.” Ne’er was a truer word spoken. Undoubtedly one of the greatest music films of all time, The Commitments marks its 25th anniversary this year with a home entertainment re-release bursting with the vibrancy, heart, humour and charm of Alan Parker’s 1991 feature. It remains an uplifting, enriching cinematic experience and wall to wall blast of sound, voluminous perms and full lexicon of Irish craic that shines with an entirely positive outlook on life and hardship in spite of the unemployment and urban decay faced by its main players in late 80’s north Dublin.
It is Robert Arkins’ band manager, Jimmy Rabbitte, who seeks to drag his rag tag group of aspiring musician pals out of the muck via the lyrical genius of Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett et al. Optimism, redemption and hope for the future through songs of yearning, anguish and struggle: what could go wrong? “We’re gonna be Dublin soul.” says Jimmy to wedding band chums Foster (Glen Hastard) and Derek (Ken McCluskey), the latter two sporting the finest (read: most atrociously ugly) waistcoats you’ve ever seen. Styles and influence need a shake up and via an extensive audition montage the Irish capital’s newest supergroup is assembled.
Testosterone levels sky-rocket when rehearsals start and the boys are joined by three local lasses (Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Bronagh Gallagher) to star as backup singers. Adolescent lust, jealousy and awkwardness aside things progress with only the odd hiccup here and there and although tempers may fray it doesn’t seem they will break completely. Trumpeter and unexpected lothario Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan (Johnny Murphy) brings sage advice and a steady pair of shoulders for his young cohorts to rely on as nerves kick in. From its opening scene, in which Jimmy wanders through a market, The Commitments revels in the intangible magic of performance and much of the film is given to gigs where varying degrees of success are achieved.
The sounds of a fiddler and an acoustic busker intermingling with the hustle and bustle of a crowded street are displaced by a full ensemble and gravelly, rasping vocals from lead singer Deco (Andrew Strong, whose gurning facial expressions are truly priceless). You’ll never listen to Mustang Sally the same again. Firmly rooted in a troubled working class community, which nonetheless exists only in the periphery here, music allows the band to soar away from day to day strife while entertaining a community in dire need of respite themselves. Like soul music? A fan of witty banter and whip smart comedy? You’ll love The Commitments. It’s two hours of unadulterated charm, toe-tapping and rollicking good fun.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens