Film Review – The Sapphires

The Sapphires (M)

Directed by: Wayne Blair

Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

If there is one thing that Australian film makers often forget to do, it is to have a good time. They tend to be pre-occupied with delving into the dark side of human nature and exploring grizzly and gruelling themes. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The Australian film industry has produced some quality, if not exactly enjoyable, pieces of work looking into doom and gloom. Mysterious prostitute themed Sleeping Beauty mesmerised, Here I Am and Toomelah looked at the struggles Indigenous people face, and Snowtown was an urban nightmare of unpleasantness but an example of skilled film making. Even violent, heavy, crime drama Animal Kingdom received international acclaim.

It has been a while since us Aussies have had a chance to take a breather at the cinema and enjoy ourselves. No wonder the adorable crowd pleasing pooch film Red Dog was a box office hit. Were audiences craving something like that?  Maybe we just needed a bit of a break from the bleak. Enter The Sapphires. Arriving amidst Cannes Film Festival buzz, this breezy, easy to digest comedy might just be what some audiences need.

In 1968, three Aboriginal women Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Kay (Miranda Tapsell) living in an outback town, and whose musical talent is abundantly apparent, are busting their backsides playing at run down pubs to a handful audience of dismissive, racist locals. Life is already a struggle for this demographic in that day and age but they are constantly reminded that their dreams of making it big as singers are  just those: dreams. They bump into drunken, oafish talent competition emcee Dave (Chris O’Dowd) who helps them get a $30 a week gig performing for the troops in Vietnam. They recruit their cousin Cynthia Kay (Shari Sebbens) to make a quartet, swap country tunes  for soul music, label themselves  The Sapphires and away they go.

But the group’s struggles are not confined to Australian shores, as Gail finds it hard to adopt an image within the musical group, Kay’s engagement hangs in the balance, fair-skinned Cynthia has troubled with her identity and Julie misses the child she had to leave behind. While the group members battle their own demons as they find themselves in the centre of a war zone, they must put on their game faces and keep the troops entertained.

Recent film festival buzz about this film would lead one to believe that it is a special little package. As pleasant, infectious and often times amusing as it is, it does not rank as one of our best. As there is nothing wrong with dabbling in dark themes, there is nothing wrong with a bit of cinematic fluff if done correctly. The problem with The Sapphires is that it has the chance to juggle some serious, dramatic elements with light-hearted humour but seems to not be able to grasp either. The issues the women deal with are skimmed over to make way for some bubbly tunes, but on the flip side, only O’Dowd is able to shine above a watchable cast with his comic timing.

The Sapphires the film may be the light alternative entertainment amongst a slew of gut punch Aussie dramas, much like The Sapphires the group served as relief from the horrors of war for the troops, and audiences will likely lap it up, but it wont linger in the memory after the final song is sung.

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