Monday, June 20, 2005

The Commitments

1991, United Kingdom/Ireland, directed by Alan Parker

The Commitments hit Dublin's movie screens in 1991 in a blaze of local publicity, the first film to be based on one of Roddy Doyle's books. The film was a huge box-office hit - a rare glimpse of contemporary Ireland on the big screen, albeit somewhat exaggerated for cinematic effect. In 2005, the film has the air of a historical document, given the changes in Ireland, and particularly Dublin, over the period since the film was made: Roddy Doyle's entire Barrytown trilogy seems to belong to a little-lamented past, although it's still not hard to find pockets - or whole areas - of Dublin that have been leapfrogged by the Celtic Tiger.

While the context may have changed - or we'd like to think that it has, at least, with a veneer of wealth and sophistication - Alan Parker's film remains as fresh as it did in 1991. The aspiration to stand out from the crowd is as infectious as it ever was, and lines that worked fifteen years ago are equally hilarious now, a testament to Doyle's exceptional ear for Dublin vernacular (much of the script is lifted straight from his novel, which is written in long strings of dialogue).

The film chronicles the unlikely birth of a band playing 'Dublin soul', modelling themselves on the American greats, but what's perhaps most appealing is the manner in which it remains true to its roots. The film even-handedly presents the unpleasant side of its characters, and there's no overnight ascent to glory, just a succession of gritty gigs in which the band members channel their annoyances with each other into a series of increasingly confident on-stage performances. Alan Parker revisited the territory of Fame here and avoided the melodrama this time out, mainly by hewing close to the source material; there are a few shots of excessively poetic poverty, but the core rings true. It's striking how many successful British and Irish movies are - often clear-eyed - celebrations of working-class life, a genre virtually absent from US cinema - perhaps because it makes no sense to celebrate something that you're supposed to aspire to leave as soon as possible.

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