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Sep 8, 2013

Review: The Sapphires (2012)

           Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Eka Darville, Tory Kittles, Georgina Haig, Don Battee, T.J. Power, Rhys Muldoon, Beau Brady, Judith Lucy, Kylie Belling, Amy Miller-Porter, Jackson Heywood and Annette Hodgson


                   Wayne Blair


                 The Sapphires was one of those movies last year that came and gone, just like that without leaving much imprint on anyone's mind. When it premiered at Cannes, Weinstein's immediately rushed to it, going as far as to call it "this year's The Artist". The Sapphires is a genuine crowd pleasing movie. There is nothing big on stake here, it is all for fun. And by fun, I don't mean silly/dumb entertainment. The Sapphires is an Australian musical dramedy that is based on the 2004 stage play of the same name by Tony Briggs. Briggs co-wrote this movie with Keith Thompson while Wayne Blair directed it. The play itself was inspired by the true story of Briggs' mother and aunt who traveled to Vietnam to sing for war troops. This film is about four Aboriginal women in 1968 Australia of a soul-singing group called "The Sapphires". Gail (Mailman) acts as the group leader, she is of a controlling nature. Kay (Sebbens) is someone who is struggling with her ethnic identity. Cynthia (Tapsell) at that time is trying to move on in her life after her breakup. The fourth member, Julie (Mauboy), has an amazing voice and talent. She has the real shot at achieving fame. Now the girls despite being very talented, has to face racial prejudice. They all do even to this very day, no matter where you are from or how much you have it in you, people look at your color first. We meet these girls, their families and the way they live. Talented, hopeful and sure of that one day when they are going to be loved by everyone. At an audition where the 'whites' don't give a damn about them, ignore that they are singing and looks at them in a bad manner. A talent scout of some sorts, Dave Lovelace (O'Dowd) spots them and realizes that these girls has potential. Dave is Irish and he is alcoholic. He doesn't seem to know himself what he is talking about. It takes a lot for the girls to take him seriously, I mean who would? Meeting their families and assuring them that these girls are very talented and that he can get them on stage and make them famous. After lot of assuring and reassuring, Dave actually gets them a job entertaining the US troops in Vietnam. Extremely dangerous to be in the war zone but despite that, they are determined to sing.

                 The Sapphires are a success with everyone, they gain their reputation, their crowds love them. Going at places, dressing up as divas and singing beautiful soul numbers. The girls themselves aren't strong enough when it comes to their issues with each other. They often fight on small or big things, almost on the verge of tearing the group apart. Gail and Dave become romantically involved. There is war that threatens, catastrophes around them. It is difficult for them to at first, deal with all that personally, try to do their job as well as keeping a good space emotionally between themselves. The Sapphires is like a cross between movies like Dreamgirls, The Help and any Vietnam war based movie, you must have realized that by now I am sure. Not saying that it is either good or bad, just pointing out the obvious. The Sapphires is a flawed entertainer, it definitely is. But then there are a few things that makes it a great movie to watch despite the shortcomings. The highlight of this movie is the relationship that these girls has with each other as well as their interactions with Dave. Dave is kind of a loser, down on his luck, washed up alcoholic looking for some talent to give them a voice and to himself, indirectly. That brings us to another good thing, Chris O'Dowd. He is the highlight of this movie, I can say this with all my heart that you have never seen him this good in a movie. A part that perfectly suits him and he does justice to it. He is very funny at places, not tries to overplay his part but keeps everything going. O'Dowd is sincere, sweet and energetic. He literally plays a dork, the one with a heart mind you. He sees in these girls something that no one else seems to see because of their superficial judgments. He is a white boy with a heart full of love that sees no color, just music. His agenda in the movie never comes off one-sided like he is doing a favor of some sorts. There might be some small benefit for him in all that but he is all for talent and making the voices heard. Dave takes a big risk and in the end, it pays off.

                 The four actresses, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell are very good as well. They seem comfortable in their roles, nothing particularly great about them individually but together, they are a great team to watch. They have their differences that affects them in ways but its that one thing that brings them together, they are good at that. Mailman however has a very mature role, she is like the big sister or mother figure to them. Very confident, on the nose kind of a person. Not afraid of anything and very head strong. The Sapphires is written in a bit of a clumsy way. The big themes that are in play here aren't given a good deal of focus. Whenever the spotlight is directed towards them, the treatment is a bit shallow but harmless. Racism and war are mostly dealt with in a secondary way, mostly for the girls as they move along. Neither of the things leave an everlasting impact on the viewers together or when they both meet. So don't go in expecting literally that such topics are going to be dealt with utmost focus. Harmless provocation in favor of sentimentality, entertainment and a bit of superficial theatricality is on display that thanks to other factors never feels too much or a bad thing. The Sapphires that would have worked better as a play, is basically trying to tell a story that involves music. That is where it works the best while everything else feels like hastily glued-together extensions. I am a big fan of soul music, there is so much power and spirit in that music form. There are some big numbers in the movie, beautifully performed with all the warmth that has an impact when you are watching the movie. The things that makes The Sapphires work are the relationships, interactions, chemistry, the lovely soul music, Chris O'Dowd and a sincere story that is the main reason this movie was made. Highly entertaining, some sentimental parts and overall an inspiring true story, watch it if you are interested in all that.

Grade: B-