The Sapphires

© 2013 Ray Wong

Australian movies tend to have lots of heart, and The Sapphires, which tells a unique story of four Aboriginal girls who finds themselves in showbiz during the Vietnam War, is no exception.

Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Kessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tpsell), together with their light-skinned cousin Kay (Shari Sebbers), are four Aboriginal girls who love to sing. Looking for a way to do what they love and get out of their small community, they seek out opportunities to showcase their singing talents, even though the white folks in town treat them like garbage.

However, their talents get the attention of Dave Lovelace (Chris O'Dowd), a music man trying to make a buck. Julie -- by far the best singer in the group -- suggests they audition for part of a singing troop for GIs in Vietnam. The gig would pay $30 a week. Out of a job, Dave volunteers to be their manager. The first thing he does is to urge the girls to sing Soul instead of Country/Western. His advice pays off as they pass the audition and earn their way to Saigon.

Once in Saigon, they realize that they may have bitten more than they can chew. The area is deep in the war, and their schedule is hectic without a guarantee that they will get paid, or not get killed, for that matter. Still, the girls are having the time of their lives. Kay falls for a young American GI named Robby (Tory Kittles), and Julie catches the eye of a local talent scout. But soon the war escalates and the group loses their military security. Things take a bad turn… 

Ever since his breakout role in The Bridesmaids, Chris O'Dowd is making a name for himself for playing lovable dweebs. Here, as the down-and-out wannabe musician who sees his way out with these four talented girls, O'Dowd exudes a sense of self-deprecating confidence and like-ability that makes us want to see him win, despite his flaws. O'Dowd just makes it look so easy and affable.

Deborah Mailman (The Secret Life of Us), who plays the oldest of the girls, is excellently feisty, bossy, crappy and yet caring and vulnerable and sensitive. She and O'Dowd have tremendous chemistry together. Australian singer Jessica Mauboy has a great voice and does a good job as Julie, even though her character is probably the least developed. Miranda Tapsell (Magical Tales) is affectingly fiery, like a firecracker, as Cynthia, and Shari Sebbers (Violet) is dutiful as one of the "lost generation" children -- those fair-skinned Aboriginal children who were abducted by the government during the 50s and 60s.

Written by Tony Briggs (On the Nose) and Keith Thompson (Fireflies), the screenplay has a down to earth quality to it. Set in the late 60s, the story has to find a balance between being a period piece and yet connecting with the younger audience, especially with the Vietnam War in the backdrop. The result is that the story does gloss over some of the historical details of either of the plights of the Aboriginal people in Australia and the Vietnam War. While the story focuses on the main characters, which are really well written and developed, the side characters such as Robby or the soldiers, are somewhat sketchy and stereotypical.

In Wayne Blair's (Lucky Leonard) hand, however, the movie clips along at a nice pace, and the character development (of the main characters) is spot on. Blair manages to find a balance between comedy and drama, between excitement and introspection, between high emotions and humor. The movie never quite wanders into melodramatic territory, even though it comes close a few times. Instead, we get a solid musical about these interesting characters, sort of like Dreamgirls but set in Australia and the Vietnam War.

With its crowd-pleasing premise, likable stars and a good, heart-warming story, While not as spectacular as Dreamgirls, The Sapphires offers a different take on the same concept. It's quite an attractive little gem.

Stars: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbers, Miranda Tapsell, Tory Kittles, Don Battee
Director: Wayne Blair
Writers: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for sexuality, war violence, language, thematic elements and smoking
Running Time: 103 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography =7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 7.3 out of 10.0 

No comments: