Directed by: Wayne Blair.
Written by: Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson based on the play by Briggs.
Starring: Chris O'Dowd (Dave Lovelace), Deborah Mailman (Gail), Jessica Mauboy (Julie), Shari Sebbens (Kay), Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia), Tory Kittles (Robby), Eka Darville (Hendo), Lynette Narkle (Nanny Theresa), Kylie Belling (Geraldine), Gregory J. Fryer (Selwyn), Don Battee (Myron Ritchie), T.J. Power (Lt. Jensen).
It’s hard, if not impossible, to hate a movie like The Sapphires. It has such energy, buoyed by some great music, and good natured performances that you go along for the ride without really thinking about the movie. This is both the movie’s strength and its weakness – the movie is fun while it lasts, but evaporates from your memory pretty much the moment that it’s over. For a movie that addresses issues like racism and war, I’m not sure that’s an good thing.
The film is about an all aboriginal singing group from Australia in the late 1960s. Three sisters – bossy Gail (Deborah Mailman), boy crazed Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and big voiced Julie (Jessica Mauboy) are all talented singers, entering rinky-dink talent contests singing Merle Haggard tunes, that they still lose even though they are clearly better than the rest of the competitors. At one such contest, they capture the attention of the MC – Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) – a failed musician himself, but one who recognizes talent when he sees it. He smartly convinces the girls to give up country music, and start singing Soul music – correctly saying that they have more in common with African American singing that music, than country stars. Dave has dollar signs in his eyes when he agrees to become their manager – and after a quick stop to pick up a cousin, Kay (Shari Sebbens), who is so light skinned, she can pass as white (and as such, was victim of the Australian governments shameful “kidnapping” of aboriginal children, who placed them in white homes, and raised them to be white) – they are off to Vietnam to entertain the American troops.
And entertain the troops they do. The movie is most alive when the group is on stage belting out soul staples like What a Man, I Can’t Help Myself and I’ll Take You There. Most of these songs are sung by lead singer Mauboy – who was a runner up on Australian Idol – and if she was the runner-up, the winner must be one hell of a singer, because Mauboy is terrific. When the movie stays on stage with The Sapphires, it is almost endless fun.
Unfortunately though, the movie doesn’t stay on stage for the entire running time, and the movie creaks along too often when it’s not. You know those one word descriptors I used above to describe the individual Sapphires? Well that’s about as much depth as they are given in the movie. They never really become fully rounded characters – and the inevitable arguments that erupt – over Cynthia’s drinking, long buried resentments and guilt over what happened to Kay, etc. – seem forced, as if the screenwriters felt the movie needed more conflict to sustain the movie’s running time. Don’t get me wrong, all four of the women are very good in their roles – I especially liked Mailman and Sebbens who come closest to having complex roles – and Chris O’Dowd is at his comedic best throughout the film. But considering just how many serious issues the film raises, the whole movie seems kind of trivial.
The Sapphires is a fun time at the movies – make no mistake about that. It has been an audience please back home in Australia – where it also won pretty much every homegrown award it could have. If you go to The Sapphires, you’ll likely have a toe-tapping good time. I just wish there was more to the movie than what there ends up being. I had a little fun watching the film, but I was never really drawn into the movie – never felt I was watching real people, even though the movie is based on a true story. Everything seem a little too predictable to make an very good movie. As it stands, The Sapphires isn’t a bad movie – but it’s not particularly good either.