“Try a little tenderness” is the feature song of one of my favourite films – “The Commitments”. I remember the first time I saw it with my Mam Peggy and my friend Fiona. Fiona was my flatmate in Rathmines. When I came to Dublin in January 1990, I stayed in a hostel for the first few weeks scouring the “Accommodation For Rent” ads in the Evening Herald every lunch time. Eventually, after viewing umpteen damp, dark and dingy bedsits which were looking for exorbitant rents, I struck gold when I found a lovely, newly renovated place on my own in Grove Park, Rathmines. From there I could take the 15B bus to work or walk it even - if the weather played ball.
In 1991, I started sharing with Fiona in the 2-bed flat upstairs after her flatmate moved on. That October, my mam Peggy came to visit us and to meet Fiona for the first time. We brought her that Sunday afternoon to the newly released film “The Commitments” in the Savoy Cinema on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. It’s gob-smacking to think it’s over 30 years ago!!
I remember in the wedding scene (one of the early scenes in the film), an auld lad sleeping in a chair gets woken up by some kids running wild around the floor (not unusual) whereupon he yells “F%$£ Off”!! As they had only recently met for the first time, I remember Fiona glancing across nervously at Peggy to see how she was taking it – but Peggy’s howls of laughter soon put her at her ease 🤣.
So, this week’s blog is on one of my favourite films – The Commitments. It’s not for the faint-hearted in keeping with most of Roddy Doyle’s books 😂. And if “bad language” offends you then you’d need to brace yourself. But, to this day, I think it’s one of the funniest, heart-warming films ever made. Enjoy!!
Alan Parker’s “The Commitments” is about a rock band from the poorest suburbs of North Dublin that decides to play soul music. The organiser of the band is the dreamer Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), whose suggestion is greeted with puzzlement by his friends. They like soul music, yes, but they don’t particularly identify with it. Rabbitte’s logic is persuasive: “The Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.”
The film is based on a novel by Roddy Doyle, who was a North Dublin school teacher, but it is founded on some earthy characters, throws them all into the pot, keeps them talking, and makes them sing a lot. The result is a movie that doesn’t lead anywhere in particular and may not have a profound message - other than that it’s hell at the top … particularly as a band manager trying to hold it together. It is set in 1990s Dublin with high unemployment and bleakness all around. But the film is filled with life, energy and humour and the music is wonderful. “The Commitments” is one of the few movies about a fictional band that’s able to convince us the band is real and actually plays together.
Jimmy Rabbitte is the driving force at the centre of the group, struggling at holding it together, but the real star of the music in the movie is a large, scruffy, obnoxious young man named Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong). After Rabbitte has disappointing luck at a series of (hilarious) auditions for his new band (there’s a funny montage showing the would-be talent knocking at his door), he finds Deco at a wedding party, where he picks up the microphone and begins to sing while the band is on break.
Andrew Strong’s discovery in real life was bound to happen. He was the 16-year-old son (I know …amazing that he was only 16!!) of Dublin singer Rob Strong. Apparently, Parker was using Rob to rehearse with, and when the father grew hoarse, the son stepped in, and Parker cast him on the spot. He’s one of those over-sized, big-voiced natural talents, with the look of Meat Loaf and the verbal style of Joe Cocker, and he gives the music in the film its driving energy. In the film, Deco Cuffe is a Dublin Bus conductor and one of my favourite scenes is Deco singing for a group of First Communion girls swaying from side to side with the motion of the bus in time to his song.
Meanwhile, backstage stories multiply. The oldest member of the group is Joey “The Lips” Fagan (Johnny Murphy), who claims to have toured America with all of the greats, from Wilson Pickett to Little Richard, and he is indeed an accomplished session musician. But he is even more accomplished at sessions between the sheets, and with great smoothness and subtlety he makes his way through all three women who sing backup for the band.
After the band secures another gig, Joey promises Jimmy that he can get his friend, Wilson Pickett, to sing alongside them. On this promise, Jimmy convinces several journalists to attend the band's next performance. At the venue, the band draws a large crowd, but its members begin arguing with each other offstage, and become doubtful when it appears that Pickett will not show. They go back on stage, where Deco denounces Jimmy for misleading the audience about Pickett's appearance; the band's performance of one of Pickett's songs, "In the Midnight Hour", silences the crowd's protests.
After the performance, the fighting continues; during a heated argument, Mickah the drummer beats up Deco outside the club, and Jimmy storms off in frustration, claiming that the band is finished. Joey follows Jimmy, who berates him for misleading the band about Pickett. Just as Joey leaves, Pickett's limousine pulls up next to Jimmy, and his driver asks for directions to the club. In a closing monologue, Jimmy explains that the band's members have since gone their separate ways, with many of them continuing to pursue musical careers, and implies that he and Natalie are in a relationship.
“The Commitments” is so much fun. But in keeping with so much of real life, the dream alludes them despite having talent they never get the breaks. The band is created with great hope, we feel we really know several of its members, but as the band members quarrel offstage it all falls apart. But at least there is a happy ending for Jimmy as he gets his girl!
The film resulted in two soundtrack albums released by MCA Records; the first reached #8 on the Billboard 200 album chart and achieved triple-platinum status, while the second album achieved gold sales status. At the 1992 British Academy Film Awards, the film won four of six BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. It also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing. The film has since gained cult status. And it's still available on DVD or to stream on YouTube!!
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 91
Number 74 - Experiences - Pick 8 Favourite Films
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
What are your favourite films? Tell me about them in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!