The Commitments

The Commitments. Dirty Hands Productions 1991.

Before watching the movie:

I’ll be honest, a screencap with Colm Meaney was what attracted my attention, though it looks like he has a pretty minor role. And really, an Irish movie in the 90s would be remiss not to include him in some way.

The actual point of this movie seems to be a bunch of wannabe musicians being put together in a band by a wannabe manager. Which could go several different ways, and since it’s billed as a dramedy, probably goes many of them.

After watching the movie:

Clever but chronically jobless Jimmy Rabbitte agrees to manage his two friends’ music career, and sets about building a band of young Dublin musicians to revive the old tradition of Soul Music. While egos and tensions run high in the group, they quickly develop a phenomenal sound, thanks to the mentorship of trumpeter Johnny Murphy, who has tall stories about playing with every old great you can think of, and the amazing voice of insufferable lead vocalist Deco Cuffe. Jimmy believes The Commitments could be everyone’s ticket to a better life, if only they can hold it together long enough to get discovered.

This story is so character-driven, with so many different characters having their own arcs, it’s difficult to summarize. Everyone has their point of conflict and it pretty much ends up just averaging out as “everyone is at each other’s throats while they’re making great music, then the movie ends”. The pacing therefore comes from “are they playing or arguing right now?” And sometimes the answer is “both”.

There’s a joke I have complicated feelings about where it is brought up that maybe soul music isn’t the best choice for a bunch of white Irish kids, and Jimmy basically says that Northern Dublin is as black as it gets in Europe. It’s important to consider if one’s actions are appropriative (though I think when it comes to soul music it’s more about if you can play it well or just go through the motions), but the response ends up being “actually we pretty much are black”. Yes, racism is different in Europe, but it’s not exactly that different. At least the idea is met with incredulous stares.

An aspect that I really like is the illustration of how art becomes a profession. These people come together to become a professional band, and the main barrier to that is “do they play well enough to get gigs?” Practical matters get in the way sometimes, but ultimately, they’re good together and it could work out for them if they don’t tear themselves apart first.

This is best viewed as a jukebox film, since the plot doesn’t really go anywhere unexpected, travelling in essentially a straight line from scene to scene. As much as I was waiting for the story to resume after the musical numbers, the music was more enjoyable than the story beats, which often have fun dialogue and always strong characterization, but not much development, just going where it was always headed from the start, but with good music along the way.

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