It is always dangerous to watch a movie you liked as a kid, but I watched “The Commitments” last night for the first time in years and thought it held up remarkably well. Alan Parker’s 1991 film, based on Roddy Doyle’s debut novel, tells the story of a Dublin hustler named Jimmy Rabbitte who puts together a soul band composed mostly of working-class kids who know nothing about soul or even, in some cases, about music.
The core of the cast are all non-actors recruited from various Dublin bands. Still, “The Commitments” is loaded with great performances. Glen Hansard, who would appear fifteen years later in another great Dublin music film, “Once,” plays the lead guitarist. Maria Doyle, of the band Hothouse Flowers, is one of the backup singers, the Commitment-ettes. And Andrew Strong, an unknown who was 16 years old when “The Commitments” was filmed, blows the roof off with performances that owe as much to Joe Cocker as to Wilson Pickett.
After “The Commitments,” most of the cast returned to careers in music or, frankly, in obscurity. Among the band members, only Doyle and Angeline Ball, who played the blond-bombshell backup singer, have had substantial acting careers since “The Commitments.” So the film feels like lightning in a bottle — an unrepeatable one-off caught on film. It feels alive.
What makes the film live, also, is the sense of music as a pure expression of hope and joy for young people in a gritty down-and-out place. In these down-and-out times, that’s an uplifting thing to watch.
Here is just a taste: