Alan Parker's charming "The Commitments" is a loud, happy extravaganza about a rock band from the poorest part of North Dublin who want to play soul music. Lean, ingenious Jimmy Rabbitte (Arkins) organized the band; his idea is greeted with puzzlement. His friends like soul but don't identify with it. But Rabbitte persuades them: "The Irish are the blacks of Europe; Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland; North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin."
Based on a novel by a North Dublin teacher, the movie introduces us to a group of Dickens-type characters who keep on talking and singing. The movie has no overt message, but is full of life and energy, and the music is honest. The fictional band is convincingly real and even plays well together.
Mercurial Jimmy Rabbitte at the center holds it all together, but the real star is a large, shambling, unkempt young man named Deco Cuffe (Strong). Rabbitte is disappointed after auditioning vocalists until he finds Deco at a wedding, where he picks up the microphone to sing while the band takes a break.
Strong in real life is also a happy find. The 16-year-old son of a Dublin singer Parker was rehearsing with until the father grew hoarse and the son stepped in. Parker cast him on the spot. He's one of those oversize, big-voiced natural talents like Joe Cocker, and brings driving energy to the music.
Meanwhile, stories multiply backstage. Joey Fagan (Murphy), an top-notch session man, claims to have toured America with Wilson Pickett, Little Richard, and all the greats, but is even greater between the sheets, as he pursues all three of the band's female back-up singers. Parker is comparable to Robert Altman for capturing spontaneous, real-life scenes by letting several stories unfold simultaneously.
"The Commitments" is a lot of fun: The band is created with great conviction, and viewers get to know its members as they quarrel offstage but spend most of their time onstage, playing.
Although the characters are developed into believable people, Parker isn't offering profound human drama. But the band is so good that the movies' music and humor are certainly its best aspects. This isn't a major work by the director of "Midnight Express," "Birdy," "Shoot the Moon," and "Mississippi Burning," but for its music and human comedy, it's fine.
Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, and Roddy Doyle, based on the novel by Doyle
Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Andrew Strong, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Johnny Murphy, D
Soul music in Dublin
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