A film that’s more joy and music than tangible story, The Sapphires is a story about four Aboriginal girls in Australia during the late 1960’s as racial tensions dominate their everyday life. They’ve just been granted the right to vote, Vietnam is in full swing with the effects being felt around the world, and Kay (Shari Sabbens), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) are looking for a way out.
All they want to do is be recognized for their talent and be whisked away.
During a talent contest, music manager and consistently drunk Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) is charmed by their singing capabilities and takes them to sing overseas in Vietnam to wounded soldiers.
The Sapphires is a film that never quite decides what path it wants to follow, meandering between racial and political plot points and pure joyful fluff, but the genuine warmth, abundance of charm and a scene stealing turn by Chris O’Dowd outweigh the many negatives.
It’s easy on face value to simply enjoy this film and delve no deeper than surface level. Writers Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson have crafted a script that almost perpetually relies on sentimentality and witty one liners by O’Dowd that it’s easy to overlook the inconsistencies and vaguely troubling transitions from scene to scene and from tone to tone.
While the historical context is evident, it’s shoehorned in with moments of faux atmospheric rebellion-showing clips of Martin Luther King Jr. is a cheap trick to tell the audience that the movie has as political undertone, rather than showing us.
The area in which the movie shines is in its musical showcases and O’Dowd’s immensely captivating performance. While the girls are delegated to archetypes-and played well- O’Dowd is allowed a truly fleshed out character, one who’s made plenty of mistakes yet keeps the actor’s signature brand of self-deprecating humor. O’Dowd has as of yet played it relatively safe in his roles and why not, considering his likability factor makes it a given that one will enjoy his performances. However, with his role as Lovelace, there’s a hint of a much stronger actor who has the capability of performances that reach far and above the chops he’s showed off as of yet. In a couple of years, it’s likely we could see him taking a Steve Carell path–funny man who knows when and how to play it dark.
I can’t wait to see where his career takes him.
This film could have been tightened, the director could’ve reached a little further into the politics surrounding the era rather than throwing around lines that hint at it, and the tone could’ve been solidified more than the final product delivered. Yet, despite the flaws, this film is a hell of a lot more fun than it has any right to be and will manage to pull its fair share of smiles, and maybe even tears, out of the average viewer.
How often do you get to see a legitimate, non-manipulative, feel good film these days when our screens are dominated by movies about personal trauma, war and grief and death?
Movies are here to perform the magical act of escapism, and I’d sacrifice some fine tuning every once in a while to be able to go to a film and walk out smiling.