MRR Review: "The Sapphires"


MRR Review: "The Sapphires"

-- Rating: PG-13 (For sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements, and smoking)
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: Sep. 9, 2012
Directed by: Wayne Blair
Genre: Biography, comedy, and drama

The musical comedy-drama movie "The Sapphires" revolves around the lives of four Australian Aboriginal artists. When the four talented girls perform to U.S. troop in Vietnam, they come to appreciate the different, but often intertwined, values of war, love, and friendship. The film is based on a 2004 stage play of the same name. Interestingly, the play was based on a true story. It was directed by Wayne Blair.

"The Sapphires" opens with the trio of Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and Diana (Jessica Mauboy) all upbeat about competing in an upcoming talent search. Soon, viewers are introduced to their amazing talent when the opening scenes are interrupted to show the three girls singing with their mother (Kylie Belling). When the opposing group hears the trio's rendition of "Today I Started Loving You Again" by Merle Haggard, they are visibly impressed. As one would expect in such movies, the morally bankrupt judges give the prize to the losers. When they walk out of the session angrily, they are followed by a talent quest host who knows a thing or two about good music.

As fate would have it, an ambitious talent promoter Julie (Jessica Mauboy) is advertising for wartime entertainers just right outside the pub. The opportunistic talent scout Dave Lovelace (Chris O'Dowd) quickly links up the girls with the promoter. Together, they organize for an interstate audition after securing the girls' parents' consent.

They go to Melbourne, where they meet with their estranged cousin Kay (Shari Shebbens). Interestingly, Kay used to sing with the trio before she was forcibly ejected from the group by her family. She is surprised to see her beloved cousins in the city and among a Tupperware party no less, and she joins the group to form a quartet. Matters develop rapidly, and soon they are performing their first gig in Saigon.

The movie, which is set in 1968 Australia, is rather sweet. In fact, this is the kind of movie that is not easy to appreciate by reading a review, but rather by watching the real thing. As a charming Australian importation, "The Sapphires" have few comparisons in terms of its show worthiness. Those who have watched "The commitments" and "Hear My Song" will know what this means. What is more, the movie has a social conscience that it makes good use of as the minutes roll away. The unhappy plight of the Aboriginal people, who weren't even considered citizens in their own country before 1967, is briefly clearly highlighted. That they were merely considered part of the flora and fauna of the land down under was bad enough without the government routinely institutionalizing their children.

"The Sapphires," however, is not all about conscience. It is a fun movie with upbeat cinematography delivered by Warwick Thornton. Viewers may get the feeling that production designer Melinda Doring was really having fun while making her contribution to this movie, especially when it comes to period retro. The sound team is not left far behind either as the impacts of the songs are clearly felt in the movie. Along with the technical aspects of the film, the cast members are quite engaging too.

Apart from the joyful musical elements in the movie, which are mostly renditions of soul tunes of that era, the characters are also quite enjoyable to watch. Lovelace, the quartet's manager, is the one who has to shoulder the movie's comical side. Lovelace, who was once an entertainment director of a cruise ship, is romantically interested in one of the girls. He is the one who convinces them to switch from Western, country songs to soul music. The viewer can clearly draw a parallel here with "The Commitment." O'Dowd's star is clearly on the rise if his performance in "Bridesmaids," and now "The Sapphires," is anything to go by.

In his debut as a director, Blair does not disappoint either. He seems to appreciate that, although "The Sapphires" is basically an entertaining movie filled with hearty laughs, the movie has a few serious issues to underscore. Audiences can notice this, for example, in the clear parallel between the racial tension in America and the Aboriginal conflict during the sixties. He uses music to ensure that these serious undertones do not overshadow the entertainment value of the movie.

Some critics have pointed out that the acting of the female quartet is a little below par and that O'Dowd is left with some very heavy lifting to do. If this is true, then the situation is certainly redeemed by the smashing voice of the ladies. Those who want a feel-good movie with a conscience, good music, and a festival tune must watch "The Sapphires."

Rating: 3 out of 5