Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Commitments

1991 - Dir: Alan Parker
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 2nd August, 2013

The Commitments was Alan Parker's third film about pop music. His first, “Fame”, was a frothy coming-of-age-musical that made the most of its youthful enthusiasm despite a lacklustre script. The second, “Pink Floyd: The Wall”, was a depressive, insular, and angular pastiche of moody myth-making that was interesting mainly for people who fried their brains listening to "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" a hundred times too often. The Commitments sits somewhere in the middle: An engaging, open-hearted entertainment that pulls off two neat tricks. First, it's one of the few movies about rock-pop-soul music that seems to have the right idea about why and how bands come together, with some fine performances from rank amateurs. But more impressively, it finds some great humour in a setting that's defined by grinding poverty. That setting is North Dublin, where Jimmy Rabbite (Robert Arkins) is trying to simultaneously shrug off his parents' bad taste and the dole-driven life that surrounds him. The film is based on the first of Roddy Doyle's so-called "Barrytown Trilogy" about the lives of the Rabbitt family. The remaining two books, The Snapper and The Van were also made into films starring Colm Meaney as Jimmy Rabbitt, Sr.
The really weird thing about watching “The Commitments” now is that it is suddenly a period film. Not so much dated but capturing an era just before it disappeared. Real time-capsule stuff. Relics like video stores abound. And if you don’t get a wave of nostalgia when the price of a bag of chips gets mentioned, you probably weren’t alive in 1991.
As for the music, it propels the film completely in places powered by Andrew Strong’s blistering vocals - Andrew, son of Irish soul singer Rob Strong, was 16 when the film was made and got the part when he tagged along with his dad to an audition. This is his only film appearance but he continues to record and perform. In casting the band at the centre of what was his fourth musical, director Alan Parker auditioned over 3,000 musicians, picking the top 12. It's the old manufactured pop band trick, but Parker also manufactured his cast - 10 of the main players had no previous acting experience. Full performances of soul standards start to dominate as the film goes on culminating with three songs in their entirety towards the end. It’s an amazing latitude given to the material by Parker that is almost unthinkable today.

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