Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Sapphires | Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman, Chris O’Dowd, Shari Sebbens | Review

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4sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD Judy Thorburn


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4lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD

The Sapphires

The Sapphires was a big hit when it premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. I can see why. With its captivating blend of drama, humor, infectious music, and effective performances, the film is, by all means, an irresistible crowd pleaser.

Inspired by a true story, director Wayne Blair's first feature film, set in the late sixties against the backdrop of racial unrest, political turmoil and assassinations, revolves around a quartet of talented young aboriginal women who had a brief fling with fame when they entertained troops in Viet Nam.

Co-written by Tony Briggs it is loosely based on the experiences of his mother and aunt, two of the original Sapphires.

At a time when racism was prevalent in Australia and native dark skinned Aborigines where considered less than human and treated awful, three vocally gifted sisters and their cousin refused to let anything get in their way of pursuing their dream as pop stars with the help of their Irish born manager and mentor.

The sisters, comprised of sassy, party girl Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), pretty lead singer,  Julie (Jessica Mauboy, runner up on 2006's“Australian Idol”) with the best pipes, and Gail, (a standout performance by Deborah Mailman) the most outspoken, strong willed and eldest, had been singing together since they were children growing up in the Australian outback. One day, they decide to go into town to compete in a talent show in a bar, where they are dissed and ridiculed by an all white audience, regardless of their obvious vocal talent. The contest is fixed and although they had no chance of winning, the girls catch the attention of the show's emcee, scruffy looking Irish piano player Dave Lovelace (the ever charming, Chris O’Dowd) and former cruise ship entertainment officer, who sees an opportunity for the girls, as well as himself.  Taking them under his wing as their manager and mentor, he begins to mold and shape them, which of course, includes a fashion and hair makeover and teaching them dance moves.

A chance of a lifetime comes in the form of an ad in the newspaper calling for entertainers to perform for the troops in Viet Nam.  But, before the the girls land an audition in Melbourne, Dave insists they stop singing country and instead turn to the more soulful R & B. To complete the group, the girls reunite with and recruit their light-skinned cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who, as a child, was forcibly taken from her family by government officials and sent to Melbourne to be raised by a white family and assimilate into white society, as part of a despicable program that lasted into the 1970s. These children were referred to as the “Stolen Generation”.

As the quartet heads to Viet Nam where they face life threatening dangers of performing in a war zone, jealousy, friction, conflict, romantic entanglements, and Dave's problem with booze come into play along with the lingering effect that Kay's forced displacement left on the girls, especially Mama Bear, Gail.  

I couldn't care less if the story is formulaic and predictable because it has so much more going for it. With all the struggles, racial and otherwise, you can't help but become emotionally invested in the characters and their uplifting story.  The entire cast is believable, pitch perfect, have great chemistry and possess dynamite vocals.   As a big fan of Motown music, I must say they do a powerful job belting out cover versions of classic Motown hits such as "Land of a Thousand Dances" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."'I’ll Take You There,' 'What a Man' and 'I Can’t Help Myself”. The great music alone is enough of a draw.

Just like the title, The Sapphires is a sparkling little gem. Odds are if you liked Dreamgirls, you are going to enjoy The Sapphires, filled with heart and “soul”  in more ways than one.