Aug 092012

The Sapphires 3

The Sapphires tells the extraordinary story of four women and the adventure that their voices took them on. Review after the jump.  

The Sapphires premiered at the Cannes International Festival where it received an extremely warm reception, and it’s easy to see why. Based on the true story (and a play of the same name written by Tony Briggs) of four Aboriginal Australian women who traveled to Vietnam to sing for the troops, The Sapphires is uplifting, amusing and heart-felt.

The Sapphires 2

The year is 1968 the Vietnam war was capturing the attention of the world. It’s also the year that the lives of four women and one man changed for ever. Sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) are discovered at a local talent quest by wandering Irish musician Dave (Chris O’Dowd), where Julie convinces him (and her sisters) to audition to sing for the troops in Vietnam.  The four travel to Melbourne where they somewhat reluctantly ask their estranged cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) to join them, and in doing so they recreate their original childhood singing group. The girls are successful at the audition and are soon on a plane to Vietnam for the adventure of a lifetime.

Vietnam presents the group with opportunities and experiences they never could have imagined – both good and bad. While there is love and there is laughter, there is also pain, war, and issues from their past which don’t stay behind in Australia. Ultimately though, the film is about music, and the power it has to uplift, transform, and heal.

The Sapphires 1

The film works well as both a comedy and a musical due to the singing talents of all four actresses and the comedic chops of Chris O’Dowd. O’Dowd steals every single scene he is in, with his humorous delivery of often very funny dialogue. His chemistry with the girls (especially the eldest sister Gail) is what gives the film it’s heart and grounding. They bash heads and don’t often see eye-to-eye, but when they are all on the same page and are in the moment, it is a smile-inducing thing indeed. The musical set-pieces are the standout in the film – from the excellent camera-work to the beautiful voices and excellent backing band, they are really a joy to watch and will have you tapping your feet and grooving in your seat.

Where the film lets itself down slightly is when it tries to tackle more dramatic moments and story-lines. It feels like the film is sweeping a very broad brush over quite sensitive aspects of Australia’s history, and it just doesn’t gel quite right with the comedic aspects of the film. I also felt that while most of the film was set in a warzone, the conflict itself was largely ignored. The pacing also felt a bit uneven, with important developments appearing to happen with unconvincing ease and speed.

Overall this film is a crowd-pleaser and it’s one that should entertain and amuse audiences of all ages. The music is the most important part of the film, and this it does very well. The songs are performed skillfully with terrific energy, and they will likely linger in your head long after you exit the cinema.


The Facts

Director: Wayne Blair
Screenplay: Keith Thompson & Tony Briggs
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, Shari Sebbens
Runtime: 103 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: August 9 2012; USA & New Zealand: no date set