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Film / The Commitments

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Have you got soul?

"They Had Absolutely Nothing. But They Were Willing To Risk It All."

The Commitments is a 1991 film based on a Roddy Doyle book of the same title, the first in his Barrytown Trilogy, which tells of the adventures of the Rabbitte family, working class residents of north-side Dublin. Set in Dublin in the late 1980s, it tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, an unemployed music aficionado who despairs of the Irish music and decides to form his own soul band; the Commitments. Gathering together a motley band of amateur musicians and guided by the mysterious trumpeter Joey "The Lips" Fagan, they set out to bring Soul to Dublin. Hilarity Ensues.

The Commitments provides examples of:

  • '80s Hair: Though the film was released in 1991, 80s styles hadn't faded just yet. A prime example is Dean's fabulous pompadour-mullet.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: In the book, lead singer Deco was described as handsome (if still obnoxious), but in the film he's portrayed as a Fat Bastard. His actor Andrew Strong, like the rest of the cast, was chosen only for the musical talent even if he didn’t resemble the description in the book.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Thanks to the involvement of Roddy Doyle, the film is generally well-regarded by fans of the novel, even though it does alter the ending a bit.
  • All Drummers Are Animals: Mickah "Don't Fuck With Me" Wallace, who started off as the band's bouncer. His predecessor, Billy Mooney, even had "the Animal" for his stage name and cited the original Animal as his main influence.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Did Joey Fagan really play with the greats in America, as he claims? He may or may not be visible on an album cover, his mother confirms his story but it's not clear if she really knows, and he claims he's going on tour with Joe Tex, who is long dead. He also claims that he knows Wilson Pickett and that he'll try to get Pickett to watch a Commitments show; Pickett's limo does come around belatedly, but it's not clear what Joey said to him or if Joey spoke to him at all.
  • And the Adventure Continues: While the film has a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, the book ends with Jimmy, Outspan, Derek and Mickah getting together to form a new country-punk group a couple of weeks later, unperturbed by the breakup of the Commitments and planning to recruit several of the other Commitments for their new band. However, in The Snapper Jimmy has started to try his luck as a DJ.
  • Artistic License – History: Both the novel and the film depict late 80s/1990 Dublin as a broken-down, poverty-stricken, cultural wasteland of a place, with very little going on in the music scene, which is why The Commitments are able to make such an impact. In reality, late 80s Dublin had an extremely energetic music scene and a quite extensive network of income support schemes enabling young musicians to support themselves, although almost all the bands of the period sounded more or less like U2. By the time the film came out, U2 were the biggest band in the world and Dublin was regarded as extremely hip, but you'd never know it from the film.
  • Ass Shove: Billy threatens Deco with this treatment.
    Billy: And you... George Michael. You ever call me a fuckin' eejit again, you'll go home with the drumsticks stuck up your hole... the one you don't sing out of.
    Deco: That'll be the day.
    Billy: I'm tellin' ya it's coming, so keep your Vaseline handy.
  • Bedmate Reveal: To the strains of the theme from Shaft, no less.
  • Berserk Button: "WE'RE NOT YER BLEEDIN' GROUP, RIGHT!"
    • Also featured in this exchange:
    Jimmy: Elvis is not soul.
    Mr. Rabbitte: Elvis is God!
    Jimmy: I never pictured God with a fat gut and a corset singin' "My Way" at Caesar's Palace!
    Mr. Rabbitte: Jaysis Christ!
    Mrs. Rabbitte: Don't upset your father!
  • Bittersweet Ending: Instead of signing a deal with Eejit Records, the Commitments are no more after isolated arguments come together and escalate quickly into a massive band meltdown. But on the plus side, most of the ex-Commitments are revealed to be doing well after the breakup — possible exceptions Outspan and Derek, while reduced to busking, at least appear to be happy, and have mended their briefly-fractured friendship. And Jimmy, even if he no longer has a band to manage, is left with some good memories. And may or may not be in a relationship with Natalie.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
    • Lampshaded. Deco is such an obnoxious, unpleasant human being but also an amazing singer.
    • Joey comes across as an eccentric religious nut who rides a scooter—but it turns out he knows his stuff.
  • The Casanova: Joey, of all people.
  • Celebrity Paradox: The video store where the group watch a film of James Brown, has a promotion on this movie's director, Alan Parker films.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: According to the Parents' Guide on, there are 250 occurrences of "fuck" and its derivatives in this movie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most characters (the entire population of Dublin, if Roddy Doyle's writing is to be believed), but Jimmy is almost the personification of this trope.
  • The Dividual: Jimmy's younger twin sisters (named Linda and Tracy in the novel), who are always together, and talk in unison.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": In-universe. Declan Cuffe doesn't like using his given name onstage — it has to be Deco.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Sharon only makes a brief appearance, especially in the book, but she takes centre stage in The Snapper.
  • Fat Bastard: Deco.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Deco, for obvious reasons. By the end of the film, it becomes clear that most members of the band can barely tolerate each other.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Bernie, though as the novel confirms, this is short for Bernadette (and is a common nickname for Bernadette in Ireland).
  • Genre Mashup: Jimmy's aforementioned new band in the novel, which combines Punk Rock with traditional Irish country music.
  • Good-Times Montage: To the strains of "Nowhere to Run," the members of the newly formed Commitments are shown rehearsing individually, all enjoying themselves and soaking up soul music. In particular, the girls are shown laughing and practicing their dance moves in the street amid a maze of hanging laundry.
    • When the band first assembles, there's a short montage set to "Destination Anywhere" as they are shown hanging out in a pub together, then having a band meeting on board a train.
  • Hidden Depths: In the novel Mickah starts off as a the band's Psycho for Hire bouncer, but later on turns out to be knowledgeable about music, asks to be the new drummer (in the film he was drafted in because nobody else was available) and has his own stage name in mind. At the end of the book he even becomes the lead singer of Jimmy's new group.
  • Hired for Their Looks: In-universe Imelda was chosen as a back-up singer for this reason, although she turns out to be pretty talented like the other girls (justified because her actress Angeline Ball was hired for her singing ability). In the film, Bernie is the first of the women to be approached to join the band, though in the hope that she will bring in Imelda (because of her looks) who is a friend of hers; in the novel, Imelda is approached first and she recruits the other two, and all three are considered "foxy chicks" by the group's male members.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: A montage (set to "Too Many Fish in the Sea") shows these appearing at Jimmy's door as he's trying to recruit his band. Jimmy asks each one who his/her influences are, then promptly slams the door in his/her face upon receiving their responses: "Barry Manilow," "Sinead O'Connor," "Wings...Bachman-Turner Overdrive?" "U2?" "Billy and the Bollocks". An apparent Boy George wannabe doesn't even get to name his influence. The only one brought in from this round is Dean, the saxophonist, because he says he's influenced by "Clarence Clemons and the guy from Madness."
  • Intercourse with You: Jimmy explains that nearly all soul music fits this trope.
  • It's All About Me: Whenever any of the women sings the lead instead of Deco, he sits at the edge of the stage and sulks. He also brags to the others that he has fans, and announces to the crowd at one point, "I hope you likes me group!"
  • Jerkass: A lot of the characters come across this way, but Deco stands out in particular. Deco sees himself as the star of the band, accidentally-on-purpose pushes the girls aside while singing Otis Redding's "Mr. Pitiful" at the band's first gig, makes lewd and crude jokes and remarks, especially in front of the girls, and generally enjoys doing things to get a rise out of people. Despite his size, he's generally all mouth and no fists, and he does meet his match when he gets beaten to a pulp by the much smaller Mickah during the final band meltdown.
  • Kavorka Man:
    • Joey Fagan. He's old enough to be everyone else's "da", and looks every bit like a guy nearing 50 with his weather-beaten face, but his soft-spoken charm wins over the band's three female singers — he's seen kissing one of them, has sex with another, and at least gets the last one, who's engaged to a rather boring man, flirtatious with him. Then again, in the novel Imelda explains that she and the other girls had a bet on to see who could get it on with him first.
    • Downplayed with Deco in the movie. Despite being a Fat Bastard, he has fangirls due to him being the frontman of the band. However the women who know him personally (Bernie, Imelda, and Natalie) hate him and find him disgusting.
  • Lighter and Softer: The film, while pretty edgy itself in terms of language as explained under Cluster F-Bomb, removes every character from the novel's casual use of the N-word.
  • Match Cut: An odd one in the "Nowhere to Run" sequence. The shot, which starts with three dangling pig carcasses in the butcher shop where bassist Derek is practicing, transitions to Natalie, Bernie, and Imelda as they practice singing and dancing outdoors.
  • The Mentor: Joey the Lips (literally, in some cases; he has to teach a few band members how to play their instruments properly).
  • Miles Gloriosus: In the film, Joey claims to have played with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and an array of famous soul artists, although he doesn't have much evidence. At the end of the film he disappears, leaving a postcard explaining he is on tour with the long-dead Joe Tex. This is less ambiguous in the novel, where he is able to provide photographs of himself playing with Otis Redding and others and quickly departs at the conclusion because he was tricked into thinking he's impregnated one of the girls, the climax of a sub-plot not included in the film.
  • Mood Whiplash: Despite the notable absence of Wilson Pickett, everyone seems thrilled at their performance after their final encore. Then the simmering tensions boil over and all hell breaks loose among almost all band members. Except Steven, that is, as he watches the band disintegrate before his eyes, and Jimmy, who's busy talking to the guy from Eejit Records, only to find that he no longer has a band to present to the label.
  • Mythology Gag: The film has a few shout outs to parts of the novel not included in the adaptation. For example, the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue shows that Bernie has joined a country band called the Brassers and Mickah is the lead singer in a punk group. In the novel, Jimmy, Outspan and Derek start up a country-punk group called the Brassers with Mickah as the lead vocalist.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: In the novel, Derek never quite becomes as skilled as the other musicians in the group. In the film, almost all of the main cast members were talented musicians, so the trope is less prevalent, but he briefly falls out with Outspan over it during the massive band meltdown that takes place backstage during their last gig.
  • Oireland: Alan Parker leaned on this trope fairly heavily in the film, depicting inner-city Dublin as a semi-feral and almost Victorian slum in which people routinely took their horse up in a lift. This was not present in the book, and it's not present in subsequent adaptations of Roddy Doyle's books.
  • One-Steve Limit: Ironically enforced in the film as a "One James Limit." In the novel, the keyboardist's name is James Clifford. But since Jimmy (Rabbitte) is a nickname for James, the keyboardist was renamed Steven Clifford.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Outspan Foster. In the novel, his real first name is Liam, but he's strictly referred to as Outspan in the film.
  • Only Sane Man: As the manager, Jimmy fits this trope. Except when he kicks Billy's van in frustration and rants at him for leaving the band on extremely short notice.
  • The Pete Best: In-universe. Ray, the hammy lead singer of Outspan and Derek's earlier band, And And And. Jimmy makes it clear that he doesn't like Ray, and when Outspan and Derek tell Ray he's out, he takes it surprisingly well, saying he was planning to go solo anyway.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Mickah. (That's him in the white tank top above).
  • The Power of Rock: Well, the Power of Soul in this case.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: In the novel, Joey rages about black jazz musicians who he thinks are betraying their race by playing "wanker's music" to white audiences and proclaims that his greatest regret is not being born black. The band are also concerned that they might be "too white" to play soul. Jimmy allays their fears thus:
    "The Irish are the blacks of Europe, Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland and north-side Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. Say it once, say it loud loud, I'm black and I'm proud."
  • Psycho for Hire: Mickah, the second drummer, who is initially hired as the band's bouncer. Jimmy thinks he ought to be locked up.
    Outspan: You're mad, Jimmy! He's a savage!
    Jimmy: I know that, but he's our savage.
  • Pun: When the band are traveling in a chip van, some passers-by ask if they have any rock salmon. They reply "Sorry, we only have soul!" Get it... sole/soul...
  • Right on Queue: The scene in which Jimmy recruits the band ends with one guy who wasn't auditioning. He just saw everyone else lined up and assumed they were selling drugs.
  • Silver Fox: All three of the girls seem to think so about Joey. In the novel, it's revealed it was all part of a joke the three were playing.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: EVERYBODY in the Commitments. Except Joey. And maybe Steven, who is portrayed as not only the smartest, but also the most religious of the band. He does get a good share of F-words in, though.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: The film essentially demonstrates what happens when you try to get ten Ted Baxters together and start up a band.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: a bunch, but notably this:
    Jimmy: What's your name, pal?
    Joey: Joseph Fagan. Joey "The Lips" Fagan.
    Jimmy: Yeah, and I'm Jimmy "The Bollocks" Rabbitte!
    Joey: I earned my name with my playing. What'd you earn yours for?
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Necessary because, as Jimmy explains, "All the best Sixties bands started with a 'The'".
  • Thematic Series: The book was part of an actual trilogy with The Snapper and The Van (and much later, The Deportees and The Guts). Due to rights issues, the films only form a very loose trilogy with names in the latter two films changed and the only common link being Colm Meaney as the father of the main family.
  • Twin Telepathy: Jimmy's twin sisters (who made their first appearance in the second book of the trilogy) have this going on..
  • V-Sign: Roughly half the band is giving the camera the offensive version of this on the poster, except for Steven (in keeping with his well-mannered character), Jimmy (who's got his hands in the air rather like Bruce Springsteen), two of of the women, Outspan (who's throwing the horns, in keeping with his guitar player personality) and Joey, who's just smiling and looking relaxed.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Everyone at the end of the film, even the normally-tight Outspan and Derek. They become friends again in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Played straight, showing where every band member ended up.
  • Word Salad Lyrics and Word Salad Philosophy: The lyrics of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" are laughed at in the last few lines of the film:
    Jimmy: Well, Terry, it's like I always say; we skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels 'cross the floor, I was feeling kind of seasick but the crowd called out for more.
    Jimmy (as Terry Wogan): That's very profound, Jimmy! What does it mean?
    Jimmy: I'm fucked if I know, Terry.