Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) likes to imagine he's being interviewed on television by Terry Wogan, because what are you if you don't have your dreams, after all? He decided to follow his ambitions to make it in the music industry, but how could he do that without a band? The first step was to get one, and with the basis of two members of the wedding band he was friendly with he set about placing an advertisement in the local Dublin newspaper, though he had already marked well the impromptu singing of one young guy who had taken to the stage drunkenly at the last wedding he was at. The motley selection of hopefuls who showed up at his door may not have been entirely suitable, but they were a start...
Director Alan Parker called The Commitments the film he had taken most pleasure in making, and you could tell he was having a lot of fun helming what had begun life as Roddy Doyle's popular novel of the same name, part of a trilogy that also saw its other two instalments filmed in this decade. The general consensus was that they had brought to the screen a work that did Doyle justice, capturing his humour and love of the soul music that the fictional band played, though there were some grumbles that they failed to see why a covers group would be so special, with mutterings about Irish Michael Boltons occasionally cropping up. However, given how the characters wound up, it was not quite the naïve worship of musical imitators that the detractors would have it as.
In the years since this was made, the issues of cultural appropriation only increased in their contentiousness, to the extent that it seemed everyone had to stay very much in one set of rules as according to their background, gender and race when it came to the entertainment or social activities they either indulged in or even created themselves. However, if there had been no such thing as borrowing elements of other ways of life then a vast selection of valued culture would have never happened, your Beatles and Rolling Stones would have more or less stayed as skiffle bands, Jackie Chan would never have attempted his death defying stunts, The Blues Brothers would be a movie about a folk group and Jim Kelly would have neglected to kick ass in Enter the Dragon, to name a miniscule amount of the vast array of works that benefitted from a wide frame of reference.
Therefore while The Commitments' efforts to recreate the classic of the American soul library were never going to supplant the originals in their achievements, you could completely understand why something that sounded so exotic to young Dubliners could transcend any social barriers and truly speak to them. There's barely an African American character to be seen in the whole film (mainly James Brown on the video Jimmy shows to illustrate what he's getting at), but the universal influence of those incredible groups and singers ran through every frame, and that's why it was such an international success, because audiences could recognise themselves in the way that one assembly of people, be it a circle of friends or a whole nation, can feel great sympathy with another collection of souls to create bonds that would have been unthinkable without that respect.
Plus, as well as all that the film was damn funny too, its ear for the colourful Dublin cadence, rhythm and vocabulary almost a kind of music itself, the cast of then-unknowns (and indeed still unknowns in many instances) bringing the story to life as they took to their roles like ducks to water. As the mastermind Jimmy brings his band together, we can well see there are great divisions in them by the way they squabble, yet also that he was on to something, as the music really did unite them when they could dream they were real music stars for the hour or so that they took to the stage. Those reveries were as important as how they sounded, they could put themselves in the shoes of towering talents and aspire to be somewhere near as good, no matter the working class surroundings of the capital would seem to be dead against that sort of ambition. That it doesn't entirely play out as they imagined doesn't have to mean they failed, for that brief time in the spotlight was to be savoured, and even for some built upon. The Commitments was inspirational without being corny, and that was an achievement in itself. Or you could, you know, laugh at the jokes and enjoy the tunes, that was fine too.
[RLJ's Blu-ray looks and sounds very fine, and as extras there's a 25th anniversary featurette, plus other vintage ones, an audio commentary with Parker, a music video, image gallery and booklet.]