In a nutshell, The Sapphires is like an indie version of Sparkle meets Dreamgirls. It’s based on the true story of an aboriginal singing group that was basically Australia’s answer to The Supremes during the late 1960s. And while the story itself is interesting, the performances solid, and the music engaging, the film suffers from an extremely muddy narrative. It’s all over the place. That said, if you’re a fan of soul music and Motown, it’s definitely worth checking out – if not immediately, then down the road as a rental. Here’s the gist:
Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) are three sisters from a remote outback mission who love to sing. One day, they venture out to a local talent show where they catch the eye and ear of Dave Lovelace, a down-on-his-luck music manager played by Irish actor Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids). Dave helps the girls and their estranged cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) transition from awkward country-music twangers to sexy soul singers, and they land a gig playing for U.S. troops in Vietnam. The tour is fraught with challenges, as well as opportunities for romance and redemption.
The Sapphires is a feel-good movie about overcoming odds and obstacles against a backdrop of political and racial turmoil, though at times the ‘message’ feels superficial and contrived. The film is at its best when the group is singing (which isn’t often enough for my taste) and when O’Dowd is exuding the scruffy charm and wry wit that makes his character incredibly endearing despite some major flaws.
The Sapphires premiered at Cannes in 2012 and got a standing ovation, but I suspect that was more for the story than the storytelling. The film was co-written by the son of one of the women the story is based on, and it ends with a sweet montage of real-life photos and post-scripts that left me wanting to see a straight-up documentary on these gals.
It’ll be hard for The Sapphires to catch fire with mainstream audiences against a slew of target-demo heavy hitters like G.I. Joe Retaliation, Tyler Perry’s Temptation and Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. But one thing’s for sure. The Sapphires soundtrack has ‘em all beat – by a mile.