Instant Queue Diaries- Episode 12: The Commitments
Originally released in 1991, Alan Parker’s “The Commitments” is a cult classic and for great reason. Rarely do a bunch of no-name actors put in enough passion and poise to create something truly special, as the independent scene is filled with mediocrity and preachy messages that often fall flat to mainstream audiences.
As South Park’s Eric Cartman once said about independent films: “Aren’t those the movies about gay cowboys eating pudding?”
As far as “The Commitments” goes, there is nothing remotely preachy or mediocre here. As a matter of fact, you could argue that it’s the best independent film of the ’90s.
Telling the story of a group of misfits in Ireland that start their own soul band, the film is filled with humor, intrigue and some of the best music to ever grace the big screen.
I remember when I was a kid my father brought home the soundtrack and for a good two years or so, I thought “The Commitments” were a band. I had no idea that all this great music, unbelievable covers of everything from Percy Sledge’s “On the Dark End of the Street” and Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” were featured on the album, so why would I ever think these people were capable of acting?
Well, they were. Feeling a bit like a documentary at times, most of the dialogue consists of the band’s manager and bootlegger, Jimmy Rabbitte, played by the charming, yet blunt Robert Arkins, trying to keep his band together and patting himself on the back whenever he can, conducting interviews with himself in the bathtub and on top of his bunk bed [Yes, he still lives at home and has also been on unemployment for over two years, but Ireland is a third-world country. What are you going to do?]. The rest of the dialogue is dedicated to the banter of the band during rehearsals and the consistent nagging of Rabbitte’s father, [played by Star Trek's Colm Meaney] who refuses to acknowledge any other musician in the world, but the King, Elvis Presley.
Several scenes between the father and son make this apparent and give the film a nice balance between the music and grit.
Jimmy: Elvis is not soul!
Jimmy Sr.: Elvis is god!
Between the father/son banter and the huge amount of swearing, which is perhaps the reason why I didn’t watch it when it first came out, “The Commitments” never pretends to be something it’s not, as it is drenched in the sites of the Irish slums and the people and ideas that make the band choose to perform soul music in the first place.
“I’m black and it’s proud.”
Because of that, you’ll look past the raw acting performances of many of the actors and relish in what the band is trying to accomplish, even though you have no idea what that is. Everything seems to fall apart before the band can see how great they actually are and no one, in the end, is wiser because of it.
A testament to its ability to draw an audience in, you don’t even have to be a lover of cinema to appreciate “The Commitments.” Anyone who has ever had time to look back and think about the reasons why some of their garage bands have broken up over the years will also fall in love with this film. The clash of personalities, sex, drugs and money are all here and all play a quaint little role in the unfolding drama.
If that isn’t your cup of tea, you could just sit back and enjoy some great music.
Patrick Hickey Jr.
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