Review: The Sapphires
If you’re going to make a film about the true story of an Aboriginal girl band touring war-torn Vietnam in 1968, you’d better make sure it’s got more than enough comedy to offset those extremely serious bits of warfare and prejudice. Thankfully, director Wayne Blair and the writers (Briggs and Thompson) manage to negotiate the bumps and shooting to produce an appealing blend of laughs and tear-inducing moments set in a particularly memorable period of history.
The three singing sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) from Cummeraganja in the Australian outback meet Chris O’Dowd’s failing entertainer Dave when they enter a talent competition in their nearby town full of ‘Gubbas’. After the locals ignore or unofficially disqualify them for being black, the women reveal their seemingly hare-brained idea of responding to an advert for singers wanted in Vietnam to entertain the troops. Dave hasn’t got anything better to do so he appoints himself as manager and gets them an audition in Melbourne. There, they are joined by vocally talented cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) who’s been living as a white person since she was snatched from their community as a child. See, serious bits.
They get the gig and find out that while it’s easy to forget you’re living in a warzone as you’re belting out the soul numbers and shaking your tail feather, sometimes reality comes back with a bang.
The initial temptation would be to write off The Sapphires, or mark it down by comparing it to other ‘singing poor girls made good’ films but there is such a feel of goodnatured acceptance that to mark it down is to ignore the spirit of the film. Yes, they are girls but here we are not concerned with just how sparkly their outfits are, or how much cleavage they show, or even the romances. We are concerned with the journey and the unusual circumstances they all have to get used to on their trip around Vietnam.
The song selection is, erm, groovy, the bluntness balances out the kitsch and a little bit of history thrown in is always good for context: I declare The Sapphires to be a good all-rounder and more than the sum of its individual parts.
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