1991, R, 118 min. Directed by Alan Parker. Starring Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallager.
REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., Sept. 20, 1991
To judge from most of his films, Alan Parker grew up in a box. When he deals with history or culture, it's as if a space alien had directed the movie. Eerily, the bits and pieces, the details, are there, but the whole doesn't feel right. That said, I'll cheerfully admit that The Commitments is an engaging film replete with delightful new young actors and music that can't be improved upon. The Commitments are a group of working class kids in Dublin who come together in a band to sing the music of “their people,” and that music is soul. Now you can see the confines of that box, can't you? Parker acts as if this is a totally new concept: Irish kids finding their roots in the black music of America. Pity Van Morrison, then, he has labored in vain. Luckily, these kids, new young actors and musicians get it exactly right as they trudge through the graffitied, and smouldering streets of Dublin. The band comes together under the single-minded organizational hand of Robert Arkins, their manager, and the spiritual guidance of Johnny Murphy, an old pro who's played with all the greats...maybe. It don't come easy. The Commitments find themselves dependent on the voice and style of a frontman who's a jerk. The sax player has secret leanings towards jazz and Murphy, the sweet old Jesus freak, is making it with all three Commitment-ettes. All three women, Gallagher, Ball and Doyle of Hothouse Flowers, are standouts. When they're singing it's easy to wonder what they need the rest of those bozos for. But the movie isn't about the band, really; it's about having a chance when the cards are stacked against it. It's about climbing out. When they sing those great soul songs, it feels like a better world for everyone and that's how Parker manages to get us into his box with him.