The Sapphires – a smash hit Australian comedy starring Chris O’Dowd is in cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic right now. Our LA correspondent ‘Trixie’ attended its US première recently, and this is her review…
Set against a background of the turbulent 1960’s, The Sapphires is the story of four Aboriginal girls who overcome the racial prejudice of their time to become a successful singing group. The film and music are a look through a window into that stormy era, and at the soundtrack that narrated it.
The film was inspired by the true story of the mother and three aunts of co-writer Tony Briggs. It was adapted from the successful Australian stage musical of the same name.
The Sapphires are the McCrae girls, played by Jessica Mauboy, who is Julie, the lead singer, Debra Mailman, who plays Gail, argumentative and protective, Shari Sebbins, who plays Kay, the missing cousin, and Miranda Tapsell, is the sexy and confident Cynthia.
The story begins at the Cummeragunja Mission in Australia, where the girls are performing as the Cummeragunja Songbirds. They enter a talent contest in town, and are ignored because of their skin color. They don’t win the contest, but they do meet Dave Lovelace, played by Chris o’Dowd.
Lovelace is a boozer and a talent scout who hosts the contest. He’s impressed with the girls, and encourages them to switch from country western music to soul music. There’s a wonderful scene in the movie where Dave explains to the girls what soul music is and how to sing it. Lovelace gets them an audition to perform for the troops in Vietnam and becomes their manager. From this point, you get to see the girls grow as artists, as they travel to Vietnam and entertain the troops there.
The individual personalities of the girls are highlighted in the film, and we see the girls experience the world for the first time. It’s also interesting to see Vietnam from a different perspective, in the reaction of the soldiers to the girl’s performances, and the venues they play, versus seeing only the violence of the war. It isn’t just entertainment The Sapphires are providing, they’re lifting the spirits of the troops, giving them something to live and to die for. The joy is contagious; it’s hard to stay in your seat.
The music in the film is superb. Australian singer and gold record winning Jessica Mauboy is a powerful voice, she belts out some of the best soul songs you’ve ever heard. The costume designer Tess Schofield created costumes for the film that contributed to the authentic look and feel of the movie which complements the music and performances.
Chris O’Dowd brings his special brand of warmth and sincerity to the character of Dave Lovelace, and has a charm and vulnerability that has the audience in his pocket from the very beginning. The evolution of Dave, his relationship with the girls in the band, their success and strong family connection, draws you in, and you become emotionally invested in the story and characters.
The historical elements of the film, the racial issues and scenes of Vietnam, are shown to you in a way that allow you to digest them, but do not overshadow the amazing soul music, or the story that is being told here, the story of four awe-inspiring women, the story of The Sapphires.