JOE's Film Flashback: The Commitments (1991) 2 years ago

JOE's Film Flashback: The Commitments (1991)

"God sent him." "Wha'?" "GOD sent him." "On a f***in' Suzuki?"

One of the greatest Irish films of all time turns 25-years-old on 4 October.

Warning: Contains smoking in pubs.

Film Flashback

Title: The Commitments

Director: Alan Parker

Irish release date: October 4, 1991.

Written by: Roddy Doyle

Worldwide box office: $14.9m

Irish certificate rating: 15

Tag Line: They Had Absolutely Nothing. But They Were Willing To Risk It All.

Plot's it all about? Have you got soul? If so, the world's hardest working band is looking for you.  Contact J. Rabbitte.

Jimmy Rabbitte is putting a band together, and it's all about soul. After years of watching bad wedding bands and Jimmy Sr's even worse Elvis impressions, the budding music manager decides to put Dublin's best (and only) working class soul band together.

They sing, they fight, they ride, they break up, they get back together, they use an awful lot of very salty language, and they produce a set of covers every bit as good as their originals.

It's a simple story, well-told, but this really is a film all about the characters and the dialogue.

The most quotable film in the history of Irish cinema

It's one of those films - like Withnail & I, The Big Lebowski or This is Spinal Tap - that you find yourself mouthing the words to as it goes along (and pissing off anyone who just wants to watch the bloody film in silence).

From the moment Colm Meaney steals a newspaper ("Can I have me paper back?" "FUCK OFF!") to Jimmy's closing interview with himself in the bath, it's full of the kind of delicious Dublinese that Doyle perfected with The Snapper and The Van, and that you wouldn't see on screen again until Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson went to Bruges.

Casual racism, sexism, body-shaming and smoking in pubs

Watch The Commitments back now and you'll know that it couldn't exist in today's politically correct universe.

From Dubliners being 'the blacks of Ireland' to Andrew Strong manhandling Andrea Corr ("go an' shite!") to Bronagh Gallagher launching the full bodied lead singer with a resounding "fuck you, you fat fucker!" it's the kind of film that would spark pitchforks at midnight, Twitter polls and full throated Daily Mail editorials against the blight of hate speech in our society if it hit our screens in 2016.

In 1991, however, we just laughed and cursed and drank and smoked ourselves to death in the pub, like Jimmy Rabbitte Sr. and the lads from the football club.

Meanwhile American audiences needed honest-to-Jaysus dictionaries handed out in the cinema to cut through the blasphemy.


What a time to be alive.

If Robert Arkins' Jimmy is the brains of the operation, Johnny Murphy's Joey 'The Lips' is both the heart and the balls

He's the curveball, the old hand to act as a bridge to James Brown, to Sam Cooke, to Wilson Pickett and more. From the moment Joey the Lips shows up on his Suzuki at the rear of the Rabbitte's back garden, he steals every scene he's a part of.

Innocent yet weathered, his reply to Jimmy 'The Bollix' Rabbitte of, "I earned my name for my horn playing, Brother Rabbitte, what did you earn yours for?" is the greatest put-down of the film and earns him his place in the band.

Romantic love is only grazed in the film and it never comes close to being the point of the whole thing; Jimmy and Joey is the great partnership in the film. The respect that the manager has for Joey 'The Lips' keeps the band moving towards the ultimate, bravura performance of their final show.

The Commitments - Try a Little Tenderness by algizdk

What ever happened to the tall, ginger lad on guitar?

Some of the acting may have been slightly patchy, but we're surprised to this day that Robert Arkins - so charismatic in the lead role - didn't carve out a successful film career for himself.

He could sing too.

Arkins would go on to compose music for films and TV, while he joined many other members of the cast for a series of dates across Ireland in 2011 to celebrate 20 years of The Commitments, but he never reached the peaks that his character dreamed of.

Glen Hansard's Outspan may have been a relatively minor character in the movie but the lead singer of The Frames has enjoyed remarkable success since returning to his musical roots.

This culminated in an Oscar win for his original song from Once, 'Falling Slowly,' in 2006 and seeing that same film become one of the biggest Broadway shows of the last decade.


Publicity still from the 2011 reunion

Strong, lead singer Deco in the film, once stated that the film had proved more a hindrance than a help to his solo career - although he did crack the Danish market with a cover of 'Ain’t No Mountain High Enough' in 2000. Strong would eventually join the 2011 reunion, claiming in an all-too-Deco fashion, “I think people deserve to hear me singing these songs."

And what of The Commitmentettes? 

Behind several great men were three even stronger women. Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Bronagh Gallagher have all gone on to enjoy successful careers in music, film and television.

Doyle Kennedy - who had TV roles in Downton Abbey, Dexter and The Tudors - was the only cast member apart from a cancer-stricken Murphy to turn down the reunion dates in 2011. She said, "I feel that new things are much more exciting than going back into the past. In fairness, I was also busy working on Sing with Kieran (musician husband Kieran Kennedy)."

Gallagher would work with Quentin Tarantino and on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, as well as writing and recording some successful solo work, but the last word must go to Ball, who spoke eloquently about what The Commitments meant to her at such a young age.



"The Commitments changed my life. It was brilliant for me," she said.

"We worked very hard. Had I known then what I know now, things would be different. I got to see the world and stay in fantastic hotels, and meet amazing people.

"It tapped into my understanding of my ability, and when you focus and want something and you go after something in a joyous way it can be wonderful, and great, and challenging. It gives you a design for life or a reason for living. I'm so glad they picked me."