At this point, I believe this is the Australian movie of the year, the audience around me showed the same sentiments when they stood up as one and clapped during the end credits. Harvey Weinstein seems to think so also, promoting it at Cannes he applauded The Sapphires all around town.
The four girls responsible for the cheers are an awesome foursome with strong voices and looks to match. It’s 1968, life in Australia is simple especially in the outback. From the opening scenes, clear winners from their tone deaf counterparts in a pub talent quest, Gail, Julie and Cynthia get the attention of the boozy organizer Dave. On the dusty streets outside the pub, Cynthia produces a classified ad looking for entertainers to the troops in Vietnam. Dave believes the girls can work on a few things and be successful in an audition. So Dave, the talent scout, moonlights as their manager, but has to get permission from their elders first. The trio adds a fourth member upon a visit to Melbourne in order to recruit their long lost cousin, Kay.
The film races through every incident quickly and before you know it they are all in the Philippines. Their big, bad booking agent, Robby (American character actor, Tory Kittles) greets them with a wide cigar, chomping smile, and a hand full of cash; things start with a bang. Reputation precedes them, and the girls elevate from the seedy bars of Saigon to open stages in front of thousands of adoring troops.
Social upheaval and political issues of the era are always in the background. The archived war footage intertwined with recreations is of top standard. Parallels between the American Civil Rights and Australia’s ongoing indigenous struggles are also fleetingly dealt with, but it’s the musical numbers that raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Jessica Mauboy is a powerhouse; her soul singing is worth the price of admission alone, proving her debut role in Australian musical with Geoffrey Rush Bran Nue Day was no fluke. Deborah Mailman holds a decent tune too; while Shari Sebbens in her first major film role is unforgettable as Kay.
As the friendly cop in Bridesmaids and more recently seen in the cult television show Girls, an irrepressible Chris O’Dowd is charming as Dave. He’s a scruffy manager who loves a drink and changes their lives forever. He is likable, and the source of many hilarious punch lines, while providing an unlikely romantic interlude.
What can I say? Everything about this movie was a joy, based on the stage play of the same name. An affectionately addictive movie, The Sapphires is a foot tapping trip down memory lane for lovers of classic soul tunes, a soundtrack reminiscent to The Commitments.
The Sapphires is now playing in Australia. It is scheduled to play at various film festivals worldwide.
Shane A. Bassett is a contributor for TheYoungFolks.com. Read more about him on our Partners & Contributors page.