Synopsis: It’s 1968, and four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertain the US troops in Vietnam.
Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell
Director: Wayne Blair
Running Length: 108 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Make no doubt about it; The Sapphires is a movie with a mission. It’s a film that wants so badly to appease its audience and appeal to the masses that it sacrifices some chances to let a more honest story develop. What the film does have is a healthy dose of charm that helps propel the movie to a viewing experience that’s nigh-joyful if not completely memorable as the days go by.
In 1968, three Aboriginal sisters from the Australian Outback team up with their cousin to form The Sapphires, a girl group managed by Dave Lovelace (O’Dowd, Bridesmaids). Together, the five travel to Vietnam to perform for the troops, face old feuds, and discover themselves in a country torn apart by war.
A true life tale adapted from a stage play penned as a tribute to relatives of the author, The Sapphires transitions easily to the screen with the help of director Blair and screenwriter Tony Briggs. Original cast member Mailman was a wise choice to bring along for the film version because she brings an earthy realness as the eldest sister that takes on a mother hen tough love role for the group. There’s a barely there subplot about some family turmoil but the film excels when it’s focused on the rise of the group from singing in local bars to belting out R&B tunes of the day to soldiers on the front lines.
In addition to Mailman there’s fine work from Australian Idol finalist Mauboy as the youngest sister with the best voice and biggest attitude. Tapsell is a hoot as the sister that never gets her way while Sebbens is less effective in an underwritten role. That leaves O’Dowd who many critics credit with giving the film its best shot at mainstream appeal. I don’t think O’Dowd is a noticeable enough star to pack ‘em in but his game performance is very appealing. Like Bridesmaids, I think he benefits greatly from having a confident female in a leading role for him to play off of – I didn’t find much chemistry between O’Dowd and Mailman though the movie tries it damndest to create some sort of spark.
The musical numbers are staged well making the film not simply Dreamgirls Down Under and several moments create the kind of giddy excitement that doesn’t come around much in film these days. Yet underneath it all is a manipulative presence suggesting the film is gung-ho about having its cake and eating it too. It’s smaller budget make some of the Vietnam sequences look fairly fake and I liked the film most when it was exploring the origins of The Sapphires and utilizing some local color for a reality check.
The Sapphires swept the Australian version of the Oscars this year, winning 11 of its 12 nominations and becoming one of the biggest box office hits of the year. While the film has struggled to find an audience outside of Australia, the Weinstein Company (who, as Miramax, had a nice run of Australian imports like Muriel’s Wedding in the mid 90’s) is throwing some cash behind it to see if it can catch fire here as well. It’s an enjoyable film and one I wanted to root for but with its predictable contrivances it falls just shy of being the crowd-pleasing home run it so wants to be. Going along with the baseball metaphor, let’s call this one a base hit…maybe a double if you factor in some strong performances.