The Sapphires

23 Jul

sapphires

The year is 1968, the dresses are sparkly and the hair bouffant. Inspired by a true story, this film follows four indigenous women: sisters Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), who with half-Irish cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) are plucked from the outback by talent scout (Chris O’Dowd) and sent to entertain the troops in Vietnam. It’s the trip of a lifetime, but along the way they are confronted with issues such as racism, the legacy of the Stolen Generation and the horrors of war. Director Wayne Blair, however, ensures that the grittier themes are touched on only lightly as we kick on to the next upbeat tune or romantic plot point.

Mauboy dazzles as passionate frontwoman Julie, belting out soul hits with feeling as the girls perform on stage for raucous army audiences. Newcomers Sebbens and Tapsell enliven the screen with their humour and sass, while Irish funnyman O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) meets his match in a bristling Mailman as protective older sister Gail.

sapphires_pic2While the sentimental writing occasionally hits a bum note, the sheer exuberance of the cast keeps things humming, while the spine-tingling soundtrack, including hits such as What a Man and I Heard it on the Grapevine, suits the girls’ voices perfectly.

Australian films of late seem to have rejected the ocker comedies such as Crocodile Dundee and Muriel’s Wedding, plumbing darker territory such as Snowtown’s grim bodies-in-the-barrels murders, Beautiful Kate’s incest theme, and Samson and Delilah, which while hauntingly beautiful, starkly drove home the plight of petrol sniffers. While these films have a lot to recommend them, it’s occasionally a relief to watch an Australian film that celebrates life. Filled with laugh-out-loud moments, standout scenes include the high-energy concert performances and the humorous montage as O’Dowd tries to transform the girls from awkward country singers into sultry soul stars. This feelgood film is sure to endure as a classic with wide appeal.

2012, 103 mins, PG, Hopscotch Films

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