A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in honor of the 25th anniversary of The Commitments, 1991's celebrated tale of a budding soul band in working-class Dublin, a special edition DVD has been released. This acclaimed movie musical, with spirited renditions of some of soul music's most beloved songs, its standout performances, and its spirited sense of humor, retains all of its original luster and specialness. Its R rating has been earned by its pervasive use of obscenities and the language of the streetwise young adult cast of characters (continuous use of "f--k" in multiple forms, "bastard," "s--t," and more, as well as references to masturbation, women's nipples, farts, and the like). A few scenes involve violence: a brawl at a roller rink, musical equipment exploding in a club, scuffles among band members. No serious injuries occur, but there are some bloody faces in the aftermath. While sexual activity is not portrayed, there is some kissing, a brief glimpse of a couple in bed, sensual dance moves, and lots of leering at attractive women. Characters drink beer and smoke cigarettes throughout.
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What's the story?
Jimmy Rabbitte (the delightful Robert Arkins) has long been among Southside Dublin's unemployed in THE COMMITMENTS, but he's determined to put together a soul band that will set the struggling community on its ear -- its literal ear. His early efforts are filled with wannabes and questionable talents, but Jimmy finds the perfect blend of artistry, good looks, and exuberance. The only problem is it's a not-so-perfect blend of egos, rivalries, sexual energy, and other demands on their time. Still, Jimmy's insistence upon hard work and his utter belief in the iconic soul music he wants to bring to Dublin (with covers of hits from Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin) transcends the challenges, at least for a while. As the band finds a raucous, devoted audience, cracks in the fragile structure of the company begin to deepen, and its existence is threatened from the inside.
Is it any good?
Decades after its release, Alan Parker's joyous film is still filled with musical excitement, memorable characters, hilarious comedy, and a heartfelt portrayal of working-class Dublin. The performances are uniformly excellent, often incomparable. The music, with 16-year-old Andrew Strong's indelible role as lead singer, soars. Actor/musicians Angeline Ball, Bronaugh Gallagher, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Glen Hansard, Felim Gormley, Johnny Murphy, and Michael Aherne are among the standouts. The Commitments (which is based on the book by Roddy Doyle) is a complete package: writing, directing, editing, cinematography, and all the production arts in top form. Parker has managed to give depth to the film's many characters, situations, and emotional upheavals.
For those who enjoyed the movie in the early 1990s, the film retains its magic. New viewers, even those not familiar with the classic soul sounds it recreates, are in for a real treat. The pervasive use of harsh language (it has been calculated that there are 169 instances of "f--k") may make this inappropriate for many kids, but it will simply be part of the tapestry of the film for others. It's interesting to note that Glen Hansard, who plays red-headed guitarist "Outspan Foster," is the composer and star of Once, a lauded Irish film from 2007. And director Parker was noted for giving smaller roles to those who auditioned for his movie but didn't make the final cut. Highly recommended for mature teens and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the language in The Commitments. How does the constant use of obscenities help define the characters and the community in which they live? At what point in the movie, if ever, does the use of profanity become less noticeable to you? Is such language always offensive? Why, or why not?
In film terms, what is an "establishing shot"? How do the establishing shots contribute to the overall texture of the film? Why do you think director Alan Parker focused on so many children in his establishing shots?
At the end of the movie, what did Joey mean when he talked about "lifting the horizons" and "raising expectations" of the band's members? Do you agree with Joey's judgment? Despite the group's sabotaging their own success, what did they take away from their experience?
What was the significance of Jimmy's brief encounter with the limousine near the film's conclusion?
- In theaters: August 14, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: November 2, 1999
- Cast: Robert Arkins, Andrew Strong, Johnny Murphy
- Director: Alan Parker
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Book Characters, Misfits and Underdogs, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language
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