TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 July 2013
I must admit I had (unforgivably) almost forgotten how brilliant a film Alan Parker's 1991 work The Commitments actually is. But, based as it is on Roddy Doyle's novel, with a razor-sharp, hilarious script by master comic writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, featuring an amazing `big soul band' created specifically for the film, who provide intoxicatingly authentic renditions of great soul songs, originally performed by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Al Green, and with Parker at the helm, it is really not that surprising that it succeeds (for me, at least) on pretty much all fronts. In fact, I was struggling to think of a better 'musical', or, maybe more accurately, film with a musical theme, made in the last 40 or 50 years. I guess the obvious comparator is John Landis' cult 1980 classic The Blues Brothers, which is based on (very) similar music, and also features the iconic line (as repeated here, with slight variation, by Robert Arkins' 'musical entrepreneur' Jimmy Rabbitte), 'I'm putting the band back together'.
The film's first 30 or so minutes is probably my favourite section, as the down-at-heel musical philosopher Jimmy, peddler of second hand tapes and home-made T-shirts, dreams of hitting the big time by putting together, and managing, his own soul band. Picking up a couple of members from a failed 'wedding band' and rejecting (in an hilarious sequence) an endless stream of inept doorstep applicants (who cite as influences anything from Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez to Bachman Turner Overdrive and U2), he hits the jackpot with the drunken Deco Cuffe (possessor of the magnificent soul voice of Andrew Strong - incredibly only 17-years old at the time). Adding a touch of glamour with backing singers, glamorous Imelda (Angeline Ball), Bernie (Bronagh Gallagher) and Natalie (Maria Doyle), and a spot of soul indoctrination, taking in TV archive footage of James Brown ('It's not the singing, it's how he does it'), and The Commitments are ready to conquer the world (well, Dublin, at least).
Parker's film is vividly authentic, with Gale Tattersall's cinematography being shot through with 'late 80s' Dublin suffering economic recession - dour rubble-strewn streets, fires burning, dole office queues, dogs barking, kids swinging on tyres, washing hanging, etc, but also providing a sense of hope via Jimmy's ambitious plan for stardom. Clement and La Frenais' script is one of their best (which is saying something) and is peppered with hilarious moments, such as when Jimmy's father Jimmy Snr. (the great Colm Meaney) mimes to Elvis' I Can't Help Falling In Love With You using a sauce bottle as a mike; when Michael Aherne's Stephen, taking confession, is corrected by the priest (it was Percy Sledge who sang When A Man Loved A Woman, not Marvin Gaye); and when Stephen and Jimmy provide a church organ rendition of A Whiter Shade Of Pale (and debate the song's apparently meaningless lyrics).
Parker also perceptively maintains a good deal of realism in the latter part of the film as the archetypal band bickering begins, internal rivalries and romantic attractions emerge, and the band's future increasingly depends on Jimmy and Joey's ambitious plan to coerce the touring Wilson Pickett to make a guest appearance at one of The Commitments' gigs, thereby providing a poignant ending to the film.
Still great 22 years on, and highly recommended for any fan of soul, (real) r n' b or blues.