The Sapphires Reviews
Sweet, energetic movie with great music. Plot is okay, though a bit cheesy and forumulaic. Some scenes feel contrived - the race issues and discussions, while highly plausible and relevant, often seem to be jammed into the plot without much context. The basic set up of the movie - manager convinces bunch of struggling musicians to switch to soul music, rest is history - feels very derivative of The Commitments, especially as the manager is Irish.
This all said, it is well-intentioned, is never dull and has a great energy and vibrancy. Some good humour too.
Best of all, the music is great. Many soul classics, performed and recorded well.
This infectiously entertaining based-on-a-true-story rags-to-riches romantic drama doesn't rely merely its soulful 1960's singers to deliver but its own vibrancy. Selection for its world premiere the Cannes film festival and subsequently receiving a delighted 10 minute standing ovation by an enraptured audience should - for those who hold a degree of resistance towards seeing the domestic release - lay any qualms to rest.
In 1968, indigenous sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsekll) pilgrim from their remote Aboriginal mission to a nearby dusty outback pub to participate in a local talent contest disregarding the indignant protest of their mulish under-age sister, Julie (Jessica Mauboy). Vehemently claiming to be the most talented Julie bursts in during their ignored performance rounding out the chorus.
Shunned and discounted by the bigoted townsfolk, their unwelcomed presence peaks the interest of the shows Irish lanky-bozer compere, Dave (Chris O'Dowd). Instantly recognizing their talents, the kind hearted but unprepared rover turns talent scout convincing the girls to let him become their manager.
First order of business is to drop the droning country & western in favor of a timeless soul sound, second is to get them an audition with the American entertainment agency and third is to convince the family's elders to allow the Julie to participate.
Forbidden to go and forced to stay at home whilst Gail and Cynthia approach their quietly confused cousin, Kay (Shari Sebbens) as a replacement, Julie once again runs away to join them. But under Dave's honest guidance the quartet transitions into Australia's answer to "The Supremes", landing their first gig to sing for American troops in Vietnam as "The Sapphires".
Arriving in the middle of the war zone, their lives are transformed. Dave overindulges in alcohol, Cynthia relishes in sex and drugs, Kay is confronted by her racially driven heritage, Julie is overwhelmed by their surroundings and Gail attempts to hold it all together and keep them all safe from rouge bullets flying around the atmosphere charged location.
A wonderful plucked from obscurity- getting recognition for natural talents story, The Sapphires belts out but doesn't over embellish loved generation tunes from Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Linda Lydell to name a few.
Perhaps lacking a little depth in the fundamental issues of the era, key subjects are hinted at but never really raised leaving the film craving greater emotional resonance. Opting to sideline and discard the weightier issues of discrimination, racism, the physical horrors of troops at war and the inner anxieties to perform under such conditions.
The marginally contrived film is rather glossy and superficial where is should be more dynamic and richer. Singing from the peaks would have reverberated further if grounded in deeper reality and given time to focus when things threatened to get ugly.
That being said, with the story not being bogged down by political undertones, the films astute casting and performances really get a chance to shine. In one particular touching goosebump moment, after receiving a shock the emotionally drained Sapphires harmoniously sing in their native Yorta Yorta language the Ngarra Burra Ferra gospel song down the phone line to their worried mother.
Managing the winning assets is O'Dowd, effortlessly flowing with comedic energy yet conveying sincerity through all his character's flaws makes down-on-his-luck Irish talent quest compere Dave so likeable we become instantly attached.
O'Dowd's comfortable banter with expressive leading lady Mailman, the embodiment of tougher, wiser and protective mama bear, is genuine if a little awkward. This has a flow on effect to the sister' joshing around, which is fluid and for anyone with sisters, completely natural.
Mauboy is obviously most vocally capable but manages not to overshadow as the indignant, Julie. Tapsell is spunky and frivolous as the romantically inept Cynthia whilst Sebbens walks the fine line between somber and fun as half-caste 'stolen generation' cousin, Kay.
The Verdict: Heavy handed politics aren't always required to dominate in order to create impact. Timing, Australian's own inert simplicity and the films subtle allusion to situations resonates to enthusiastically applauding international audience and curtails home-grown pessimism.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 17/08/2012