Movie Review: The Sapphires

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A group of Aboriginal girl singers go to Vietnam to sing for the troops.

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Wayne Blair, 2012

The film revolves around four indigenous girls – sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) – who enter into a singing contest and come across washed-up musician and lover of soul music Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), who ends up managing them. At their insistence, he gets them a job singing for the troops in Vietnam. The country girls barely know what they’re getting themselves into when they head off to sing in the middle of a war, and Dave’s drinking threatens to get in the way of their success. Still, they manage to overcome the odds and become a popular group amongst the troops they’re entertaining.

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This film was a pretty big success down under and actually managed to find an international market, and I do love musical films (I know this isn’t a musical, but it has singing and dancing and that’s good enough for me), so I decided to give this a go. To me it doesn’t measure up to 2009’s superior Bran Nue Dae (also starring Jessica Mauboy), but it’s an enjoyable film that hits the right notes for the Mamma Mia crowd. It’s also a true story about women of colour, driven by their narrative, so it’s a story well worth exploring. It’s just a shame that the story wasn’t explored in a better way than this formulaic movie. The scenes set in the girls’ home town are full of familial love and tension, but Vietnam becomes episodic and predictable. If the film occasionally falls flat it’s no fault of the actors, who put their all into keeping this film bubbling along.

Chris O’Dowd and Deborah Mailman are always good value, and their easy romance proves a stable heartbeat for the rest of the film to keep pace to. O’Dowd is particularly good – he gives the film its fizzing energy, anchored by Mailman’s dramatic ability. Jessica Mauboy, though she’s a good singer, is an average actress at the best of times, stomping over her lines – but she’s here to sing, and she does well. The other two girls, who I hadn’t heard of before the film, are both excellent – Miranda Tapsell nearly steals the show as vivacious Cynthia, and Shari Sebbens’ Kay provides an interesting look into the stolen generation. The film attempts to balance light-hearted humour with the dramas of war and racism, and it does well a lot of the time. There are a few moments that are more on the nose – the girls break down when singing for injured soldiers, proving that War is Bad, for instance. There are slow patches as well, and the film’s Australian scenes work better than the Vietnam scenes, when it feels like it should be the other way around. It’s filmmaking by the numbers, but they’re pretty good numbers, especially when they’re singing.

The Sapphires on IMDb

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