A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 230 – The Commitments

The Commitments – October 16th, 2010

We are once again visiting my parents for the weekend and had to pick a movie from our collection which we knew they’d enjoy. After all, it would be unpardonably rude of us to go visit them and park ourselves in front of a movie they couldn’t stand. And we do have some movies in the collection that I know would be bad choices. But this? This is an excellent choice. And not just because my mother owns the soundtracks on CD and owned them on cassette and wore them out listening to them in the car. It’s not just because both of my parents can sing along with the whole movie. It’s a great choice because it’s a great movie and my parents happen to love it and so do we.

Andy has probably mentioned a friend of ours from high school who knows this movie by heart. Or she did back then. I recall her describing an email exchange she had going with a friend where they quoted the movie back and forth without looking up the script. It’s a fantastic script, partially written by Roddy Doyle, who wrote the book it’s adapted from. It’s eminently quotable, if you don’t shy away from attempting the accents. It’s just one of those movies that’s stuck in my head since my first viewing. I danced to a song from it at my wedding. It’s that sort of movie.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it. Especially if you like soul music, because the music is fantastic. That’s one of the huge draws of the movie. The story is about a group of unemployed and underemployed folks from Dublin getting together (with the help of the ambitious Jimmy Rabbitte, who takes his position as their manager) and forming a soul band. Jimmy has a vision of bringing soul to the working class people of Dublin and he sets about forming the band from a couple of friends, some girls he knew from school, a few folks from the hilarious audition scenes, and a man who claims God sent him to help with Jimmy’s mission. And the band has a tremendous rise. It comes together member by member. There’s the guitarists, the brass players, the pianist, the drummer, the three ladies on back-up and then there’s Deco. Perhaps without the trumpet player, Joey “The Lips” Fagin, and Deco, things might have gone better. But after a rise there has to be a fall.

I find it hard to watch the end of this movie. There’s all this chaos and fun in getting the band together and no, it’s not easy. After all, the characters all come from working class families and in come cases are the only ones bringing in any money, supporting their parents and siblings. They’re pulled together by Jimmy and in many cases personalities clash. They lose their first drummer because he’s worried he’ll lose his temper and punch Deco for being an ass and he can’t afford to punch Deco cause he’s already on probation for punching a different ass. They argue and snipe and gossip, but they play great music once they get on stage. Each gig they play is better than the last and by an hour and a half in they’re really finding their groove, pulling together as a band and it feels great. But there are problems too. There are disagreements on style. Jimmy insists they wear formal attire, which the band is dubious about. The sax player, Dean, wants to branch out into Jazz. Deco starts looking for better prospects outside the band, which would be fine, what with him being an ass to everyone else, if only he didn’t have a fantastic voice that makes the band. And Joey seduces the back-up singers one by one.

So when they play their last gig, and on stage they’re hot and they’re hitting every note perfectly and it’s beautiful to watch, it’s also bittersweet. Because back stage they’re screaming and fighting and falling apart. It’s a disastrous proportions. There are maybe two people who don’t end up brawling by the end, and one is Jimmy (the other is the pianist, Steven, who’s the most mild-mannered band member). Plot-wise, it makes perfect sense that it all falls apart just when they’re really starting to get noticed. How many bands start? And how many make it? Part of the point of the movie is the atmosphere of working class Dublin and the grittiness of the lives of the characters. Having them have a big break and make it big would definitely be a Hollywood fairytale ending. Having the band dissolve instead, that’s far more realistic. As Joey tells Jimmy, “this way it’s poetry” and he’s right. So as much as I want the band to make it, and as hard as it is for me to watch them lose out on the possibilities the movie teases us with, I get it. I don’t argue with it. It works. It’s just sad.

Reading the trivia on IMDB and watching one of the making-of documentaries on the bonus disc, I learned that the main cast was auditioned for musical talent first, then given lines to read. So essentially a band was put together, and then they made a movie with that band. I find that fantastic, and I also find it amazing, because when you look up the cast a lot of them only did a few other acting projects, if any. I’ve seen Angeline Ball and Bronagh Gallagher (Imelda and Bernie, two of the back-up singers) in other things, and a couple of the guys have done a handful of things, but for the most part they weren’t really actors. They were musicians. So it makes sense that the music was amazing. But they really also did a great job with the non-musical aspects. I want to mention Robert Arkins, who played Jimmy, and Andrew Strong, who played Deco, especially. Arkins had never acted before, and he’s brilliant. He’s totally into the role of Jimmy through the whole movie, juggling the band and giving monologues to his mirror as if he’s being interviewed about the band’s future success. Andrew Strong, on the other hand, gets accolades for me because I would never in a million years have guessed he was sixteen at the time of filming. Sixteen! And when you hear him sing, it’s obvious why he was cast. He’s amazing. And he’s so committed to the role of the egotistical and obnoxious Deco that you’d never know he’s about ten years younger than he’s playing.

Knowing that the cast were mostly experienced musicians but inexperienced actors, I love how great some of the lines ended up in the movie. There are plenty of great quotes and funny moments. Even when the band’s bickering, there’s humor to it. There’s a seriousness to the surroundings, but also a sense that regardless of that seriousness, the people in the movie aren’t being beaten down by it. Jimmy refuses to, which is probably the point in starting the band in the first place. But his family too, is a warm little center for the movie. Things are tough, but what can you do but keep going? Get together with your friends, do the things that make you happy, try to help out the people around you. There’s something great about that, and the band has some moments, like a bit in the hospital after one band member’s been electrocuted by faulty equipment, where they seem like a bunch of siblings. Sure, they bicker, but they can have fun together too.

I think it’s that mixed sense of seriousness and fun and music that makes the movie a blast to watch. If it was just the music I could listen to the soundtrack and not bother watching and having to see the downfall at the end. But it’s not just the music. Sure, we danced and sang along tonight, watching it at my parents’ house. But we also quoted along with the spoken lines, and laughed in anticipation of the best bits and sighed in resignation when Jimmy recounts what happened to all the band members after the big break up. It was a great choice for tonight. It’s really a great choice for any night.

October 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Commitments

October 16, 2010

The Commitments

Three times in the past my mother enjoyed a movie so much that they bought the soundtracks. She is not generally a movie buff. Neither is she given as I am to collecting soundtracks. The first movie that struck her this way was Stop Making Sense with the Talking Heads. The whole family spent a summer vacation in a rented RV listening to that album. More recently there was O Brother Where Art Thou, which we’ve already reviewed for the project. Then there was this movie. The Commitments is as much about the music itself as it is about the characters that make up the band and the rise and fall story of the movie.

The story that the movie tells is exceptionally simple. Jimmy Rabbitte. is tired of flogging bootleg tapes on the streets of Dublin and has decided to put together a band. He enlists the help of a couple friends and puts an ad in the paper. From there it is a story of people coming together to make great music and all the various conflicts that go on behind the scenes when they do. There’s problems with sex, with money, with the musical direction of the band, with egos… it’s like an entire episode of “Behind the Music” compressed into a quick movie. Complete with media interviews. (Jimmy has a habit of interviewing himself – it’s kind of the narration of the movie.)

It isn’t really the plot of the movie that makes it great though. There’s the music itself of course. I’ve already mentioned it, but the music in the movie really is astonishing. It’s a series of covers of great soul tunes, and the people playing the band are the actual band itself, which lends it a feel of reality. Apparently they cast actual musicians and singers and then had them act rather than the other way around, and you can really sense how much the music means to them. It probably helps their performances in the film as well. The whole movie is about these shining moments when everything goes right and these people who can’t even get along with each other create something that transcends all the petty squabbles and raises them up out of the rough world they live in. This is made all the more amazing when contrasted with the run down streets of Dublin in the early nineties.

That’s the other appeal of the movie. There’s a feel to the world the characters inhabit that is so stark and unhappy but for the most part they find a way to rise above it. Most of the fun in the film comes from the sharp, quick and often hilarious dialog. There are a lot of great little bits that stick with you and can bring a smile to your face. It’s an exciting, brilliant, funny and musical film that leaves you dancing along to the snappy music. It shows how working class people can become something truly magical through the power of music. Does it have a deeper meaning? Does it have an agenda? Is it about more than the music and the comedy? In the worlds of the movie “F*cked if I know, Terry!”

October 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment