The Sapphires

Director: Wayne Blair

Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell

Written by: Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson

Running Time: 103 mins

Cert: PG

Release date: 7th November 2012

If there is one country that produces surprise after surprise when it comes to cinema, it has to be Australia. Just look at their past record: Mad Max, Breaker Morant, Picnic At Hanging Rock, Crocodile Dundee, The Adventures of Priscilla, Muriel’s Wedding, The Castle. I could go on but then this review would just be a list of great Australian films. Then I would also have to add The Sapphires, possible the most charming feel-good movie of the year.

It’s the 60s and three Aboriginal girls, Gail, Julie and Cynthia, enter a local talent contest singing country songs. Losing out, even though they were the best, they meet Dave, the hopeless MC who loses his job for speaking out about the girls. One of the girls has an advert for performers to work entertaining the troops in Vietnam. Dave persuades them to be his manager but also wants them to change their musical choices and sing soul. Needing a fourth member, the girls turn to their white cousin, Kay. Having to cope with family feuds, finding love and the terrors of being in a war torn country, the girls and their manager soon grow as people and learn to rely on each other for strength.

There is so much to like about this joyful film. Firstly, the music. I am a huge soul fan and so I was in seventh heaven. Crammed with well produced classics, I found myself tapping my foot, nodding my head and even mouthing the words to the terrific choice of songs. There are huge similarities to the 1991 The Commitments, another wonderful film with great music. The other thing is that it deals with some very big issues.

Racism is a strong subject matter that underlines the film but kudos to writers Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson and director Wayne Blair that it doesn’t sit heavily on the film. It is mentioned, handled and then we move on. There are other issues like the bonding of warring sisters, falling in love and having to move through a country with the constant fear of being shot. Each is dealt with with equal status and then we move on to another subject.

The performances are terrific. The four girls not only can act but sing beautifully. Each are nicely drawn out and you follow their adventures with both interest and a sense of caring. Especially Deborah Mailman as the matriarchal Gail, a tough, no-nonsense leader who finds an unlikely ally.

Then there’s Chris O’Dowd as the useless Dave. The Irish comedy actor, more known for his role in The IT Crowd, really is allowed to shine here as the manager with a love for soul but no clue on anything else. It’s a nicely balanced comic role and O’Dowd not only makes you believe in him but can’t help but like him too.

I smiled throughout this film and with a terrific soundtrack and some genuinely touching moments, this is a film that will brighten up any autumn evening. You might not have heard about this film but I hope it will become a surprise hit. It certainly deserves to be.

4/5

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