Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?
‘The Comm- itments’
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 01:10
I strongly suggest that you read this column while listening to some soul. Otis Redding or James Brown will do. All set? Great. Let’s get started.
“The Commitments” is a 1991 film, based on a 1987 book of the same title, featuring a fictional band called The Commitments that has since led to a spin-off, real band called The Commitments. Got it? Good.
“The Commitments” tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte as he tries to assemble “the world’s hardest working band.” The original novel on which the film is based was written by Roddy Doyle, a novelist and screenwriter, whose writing features working-class Dubliners living on the north side of the city. Between 1987 and 1991, Doyle — whom I have met in the flesh, by the way — wrote three books following the travels and travails of the Rabbitte family, known collectively as “The Barrytown Trilogy.” All of these novels have been made into films, with Doyle often serving as a co-writer.
“The Commitments” explores Ireland’s relationship with soul, a predominantly African-American genre of music. At the beginning of the film Jimmy says — I believe, incorrectly and problematically — that the Irish are the blacks of Europe. Despite this instance of problematic appropriation, Jimmy and his band find soul to be an appropriate genre to express pride in their working class backgrounds, which the film highlights throughout. According to Jimmy, soul is about hard work and sex, something the band members can relate to.
“The Commitments” rejects the stereotypical band/sports movie trajectory of development, success, conflict and then even greater success. In one scene, the band waits for famous musician Wilson Pickett to come play with them — Pickett, however, doesn’t appear at the last minute to bring the band success right before the proverbial buzzer. The band’s talented but obnoxious and misogynistic lead singer Deco does not learn his lesson at the end of the film. He continues to be obnoxious and misogynistic, even leading the band’s drummer to quit. The drummer does not return in a heartwarming moment. In fact, Jimmy replaces him with a violent psychopath incredibly quickly.
At the end of the movie, the band breaks up, and we hear Jimmy recounting to a fake interviewer — actually himself — where each band member ended up. We have to question if his account is true or if the band members are actually back where they started, working at their dead-end jobs. We can only hope that everything turned out well for them. As the oldest and wisest member of the band, a religiously prophetic trumpet player who claims to have played with all the greats, tells Jimmy: The success of the band is not the crucial point. Its mere existence and the joy it brought to Jimmy and his downtrodden band members are what matters. Before riding off into the distance on a motorcycle, the trumpet player sums up the movie’s philosophy: “[Success] would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.”
In additional to an original plot, “The Commitments” features some amazing music. All the actors in the film are also talented musicians and singers, and in 2010, they reunited for a short tour. Glen Hansard from “Once” got his first acting credit as the guitarist in the Commitments. “The Commitments” also launched the career of Andrew Strong, a successful Irish singer who played Deco. The film’s legacy even extends beyond the careers it launched — a “Commitments” musical, developed by Roddy Doyle, is currently playing in London’s West End.
I highly recommend “The Commitments” to all music aficionados and those interested in working class life in Dublin.
Next week’s film: “The Snapper,” the second installment of “The Barrytown Trilogy.”
Megan Clark is a senior who is majoring in English and history. She can be reached at Megan.Clark@tufts.edu.