By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Sapphires (The Weinstein Company)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements and smoking.
Starring Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Tory Kittles, Don Battee, Eka Darville, Lynette Narkle, Kylie Belling, Tammy Anderson.
Written by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs, based on the stage play by Tony Briggs.
Directed by Wayne Blair.
As time marches on, the popular view of history fades, and nothing proves this more than the way contemporary movies portray real events like the 1960s and the Vietnam era. One of the latest films set in the Vietnam era is The Sapphires, the somewhat true story of a female Australian singers out to break into show business via entertaining the troops in southeast Asia.
The movie's story is centered around four indigenous (aboriginal) women (sisters and cousins) who hope to use their musical talents to get “discovered.” The group is comprised of Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Kay (Sheri Sebbens), and Cynthie (Miranda Tapsell). The girls eventually meet Dave (Chris O'Dowd), a musician and aspiring manager who recognizes their talents and arranges for an audition Sydney. Dave also revamps their act, moving from country-western to soul. The girls impress the American military entertainment brass at the audition, and are immediately shipped off to Vietnam. They also name themselves “The Sapphires.”
In the war zone, the girls struggle with racism, love interests and the occasional battle scene. When one of their group is caught up in a major enemy attack at an army base, the Sapphires must decide whether the possibility of fame is worth all the trouble.
The Sapphires has a few things going for it. One is a great soundtrack, complete with several new recordings of classic soul hits from the 60s like “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “What A Man,” and “I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).” Most of the songs are headlined by Mauboy (as Julie), who has an incredible voice. If you love the Motown sound, The Sapphires will make you fall in love with it all over again.
That's the good news.
The bad news is, The Sapphires suffers from a huge lack of historical relevance, as just about no one has ever heard of the group (they existed, but more like back-up singers). The real-life Julie's son Tony Briggs was co-writer on the film, and also penned the stage play on which the movie is based. Briggs apparently took a lot of liberties with the facts, and misses on making a valid connection between the struggles of Australia's aboriginal people and the American race issues surrounding the Vietnam War. The film begins with a reminder that prior to 1967, aboriginal people were considered to be part of the Australia's “flora and fauna,” with few civil rights. The movie does very little to prove that the Sapphires had anything to do with changing that, other than a post-script before the end credits explaining how members of the group left show business to devote their lives to improving conditions for their people.
Another problem with the movie is that aside from the occasional war peril, there is very little conflict in The Sapphires' super-sweet story, and anything that smacks of a little conflict feels contrived, at best.
The performances in The Sapphires are anchored by the always charming and funny Chris O'Dowd, while the women shine mostly when performing the songs.
The Sapphires may not be a very important movie, but it is a little bit of musical fun.