Film Review “The Commitments”

Okay, so they’re not that little. There are probably about eight members of the band “The Commitments” (1991), the “most hard-working band in the world,” including their charismatic manager, Jimmy, who assembles the whole gang of misfit street performers. The film is set in North Dublin, where we see kids on the street throwing bricks through windows and people trying to bring their donkeys up elevators. It’s a loving view of working class struggles in a perpetually rainy city. Along with music, humor plays a big part in winning the audience over, with heaps of clever dialogue and fun little details in the set design, such as a picture of Elvis framed right above a portrait of the Pope in Jimmy’s family home.

Early in the film, Jimmy tries to convince his soon-to-be band of the genre of music they’ll be specializing in. He chooses soul music as their primary output; when the band challenges him by saying that they’re too white, Jimmy responds by stating that the Irish are the blacks of Europe. That’s reason enough for the ragtag bunch, as they soon embark on finding a trumpet player and backup vocalists.

Only 25 years later, “The Commitments” feels like a period piece because everything from the clothing to the vehicles to the shabby interiors feels just right. As is to be expected, the soundtrack to the movie is wonderful as well, with the likes of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin getting standout treatment in one of the group’s several performances across dingy Dublin bars and nightclubs. What we see in this movie is people finding hope through music where they might not otherwise have much. This applies not only to the Commitments themselves but to their audience as well, as we occasionally glimpse the rough and lively faces of their audience. As a fun little musical with a big heart and funny dialogue, it just might win you over.

“The Commitments” is by no means a perfect movie. It drags on for two hours, and while the group is a wonderfully cohesive whole when they’re onstage, not many of their individual personalities are given time to shine — with the exception of Jimmy and Joey, the trumpet player who is full of big talk about jamming with some of the greats. The women of the film aren’t given proper treatment either. Three backup singers are the main female characters present, and they are mostly relegated to bickering with each other or falling into bed with the smooth trumpeter. Aside from the street-level view of the city I mentioned earlier, we don’t get much in the way of commentary on Irish society. At the end of the day, “The Commitments” is just trying to show the audience a good time. And on that count, it succeeds.