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THE SAPPHIRES (review)

Produced by Rosemary Blight, Kylie Du Fresne 
Screenplay by Keith Thompson, Tony Briggs 
Based on The Sapphires by Tony Briggs
Directed by Wayne Blair
Starring Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman,
Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell

The Weinstein Company / Rated PG-13
The Sapphires follows the story of four Australian Aboriginal women who are hired to entertain the US troops in Vietnam in 1968.

The Sapphires is a familiar story and definitely clichéd, but nonetheless disarming.

It’s an amazingly feel-good presentation of young women maturing in a sad world during a brief stint of stardom. Even while set against dark a subject matter, the film is simple, uplifting, and great.

I thought the movie was really enjoyable.

There was potential for it to feel gimmicky and goofy (a la Dream Girls) but there is an excellent balance of serious topics and upbeat dream-come-true feelings. The Sapphires touches upon issues ranging from internal familial conflict to intense discrimination on local and global scales. Hearing “Vietnam” and “Aboriginals”, I wondered how the grim subjects would intersect with the high energy music, but Wayne Blair delivered it expertly. He balanced the tender, difficult moments alongside lighthearted musical numbers and witty banter seamlessly.

The Sapphires begins as several Aboriginal girls are discovered by the drunken, soul-music-loving, Dave Lovelace, played wonderfully by Chris O’Dowd. He books the group’s first real gig and from there acts as the girls’ unexpected musical guide and mentor across Vietnam. Everyone is thrust into a mature world they have not been exposed to and must shield one another from the external dangers while sanely managing their personal drama.

The group is comprised of three sisters and their cousin: the “mama bear” Gail (Deborah Mailman), her rambunctious younger sister Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), their youngest sister who carries the group with her mind blowing voice, Julie (Jessica Mauboy), and their cousin, Kay (Shari Sebbens) who is reluctantly chosen to be the fourth member. Each woman is unique and has memorable onscreen presence. It could have been quite a cheesy dynamic but the family history and local discrimination they face is genuine and relatable.

The Sapphires are led by Dave Lovelace who has an incredible love for soul music and believes these women can make a difference, however small, in soldiers’ brief peaceful moments between battles. Chris O’Dowd definitely steals the show. He’s funny, he’s awkward, he’s goofy, lovable, not quite professional, but incredibly knowledgeable. The character has a deep passion for soul music that O’Dowd expresses with hilarious lust. He is a gem and really complimentary to the girls.

Interpersonal family hardships juxtaposed with world issues; the film depicted a microcosm of what the world was going through. The hardships of segregation and racism, a stolen generation, finding dreams and hoping for a happy ending in the midst of war. It was a lot of matter in one film, yet it never felt overloaded or dramatic.

While many issues presented in the film are controversial, the movie overall isn’t negative or judgmental. It isn’t a war epic nor is it rom-com. The Sapphires is satisfyingly unique. The film isn’t disingenuous with its presentation of aboriginal life or war and is genuinely fun and heartfelt.

The more profound ideas are somewhat subtle which means that The Sapphires never preaches. It relays a message, a story (and loosely, some history), lightheartedly and respectfully. We root for the girls, we sneer at the racist characters. The film is quickly paced with high-energy musical numbers that are appropriately flashy and wonderful. The singing is exquisite and the chemistry is tangible and fun. Have a good time at this show. And enjoy the unexpectedly outstanding solos by Chris O’Dowd.

Amazing.

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