Soul music calls to Jimmy Rabbitte, an Irish lad living in Dublin in the mid-1980s, and it’s telling him to put together a local band.
That’s not so easy when people around him are listening to everything but Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.
But with his powers of persuasion, Jimmy prevails and soon he has the musical parts in place, if not harmonizing, and he’s managing an unruly group of musicians, including three back-up singers (Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher and Angeline Ball) and a temperamental lead singer with a magnificent voice (Andrew Strong).
The Commitments, available on DVD at the Whitehorse Public Library, is based on a novel by Roddy Doyle, with a screenplay by Doyle, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and directed by Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning, Evita and Angela’s Ashes).
Released in 1991, it became an international success and is now a classic of sorts.
The theme of Doyle’s story, about working class characters finding both an escape and a pathway in music, comes to life with a loose mixture of amateur and professional performers – Parker gave priority to musicianship rather than acting ability when he chose the cast.
Though they learn to make beautiful music together, the band’s fractious relations, comic paranoia and runaway egos mean it is under the constant threat of disintegration, and Jimmy isn’t quite the oil on troubled waters that he needs to be.
Robert Arkins is the driven, self-assured Jimmy, who combats derision and pessimism on all fronts, including from his own father (Colm Meany), who places Elvis’s portrait just above the Pope’s in the living room.
Arkins is an accomplished singer and musician, but you’ll only hear him on the title and end credits.
A very young Glen Hansard is one of the guitarists in the Commitments band. Sixteen years later he played the lead in another modest film.
In Once, released in 2007, Hansard is a singer-songwriter, referred to only as “Guy” in the credits, busking on the streets of Dublin, not quite ready to take a chance on himself and commit fully to the music he makes.
His street performances attract the attention of a young Czech immigrant (“Girl” played by MarkétaIrglová), a classically trained pianist who can’t afford a piano. The girl proves to be a steadfast support as they collaborate on music and she encourages him to make a demo.
Once, also available on DVD at the Whitehorse Public Library, is written and directed by John Carney, a musician who played bass in Hansard’s band, The Frames.
Marianne Darragh often visits the Whitehorse Public Library in search of memorable DVDs.