The Sapphires - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
HAVING shone amid the talented ensemble of Bridesmaids Chris O’Dowd now goes one better as leading man in feel-good Australian dramedy The Sapphires.
Adapted from the successful Australian musical of the same name and inspired by the true story of co-writer and author of the original stage play Tony Briggs’ mother and three aunts, the film finds O’Dowd as a down-on-his-luck soul man who sees a chance for success in the Cummeraganja Songbirds, a trio of Aboriginal singers he first hears while overseeing a talent show deep in the Outback.
He subsequently whips them into shape, recruits another member in the girls’ ‘stolen’ cousin and manages them all the way to Vietnam, where they entertain the troops and make a name for themselves.
O’Dowd is the undoubted star attraction of the film and assumes the leading man status with considerable aplomb. His booze-soaked Irishman Dave is an endearing presence to be around – quick witted, yet prone to self-indulgence and bad decision making, he finds his own redemption by sticking with the girls.
It’s a performance that, admittedly, leans heavily on the comedian’s trademark comedy but which also allows for some dramatic moments too, during which he really endears himself to the audience.
Notable, too, are the girl singers themselves – feisty Gail (played by award-winning Australian actress Deborah Mailman), foxy Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), ultra-talented Julie (Australian Idol winner Jessica Mauboy) and reunited cuz Kay (Shari Sebbens).
The film frequently comes alive whenever the girls start singing, belting out classic soul numbers in hugely entertaining fashion, while simultaneously capturing the animosity and close bond that exists between all siblings.
If The Sapphires has shortcomings, they’re usually to be found in Wayne Blair’s direction, which sometimes feels forced and rough around the edges, as well as in the mostly predictable nature of Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson’s script – certain scenes struggle to escape their stagey feel, while some of the bigger sequences fail to mask the limited budget.
There’s also a slightly generic feel towards some of the plotting, which contains some inevitable fall-outs and reunions, as well as a vibe that’s distinctly The Commitments crossed with Good Morning Vietnam.
And while mostly light, the film could also have taken more time to properly explore some of the darker themes under-pinning it – most notably Australia’s shameful abduction of Aboriginal children who looked ‘white’ enough to be integrated into ‘polite society’, as well as some of the harsher elements of life in Vietnam.
Blair does address these, mostly in the film’s overly dramatic final third, but his film feels a little top heavy as a result, when a little more even spreading of the issues would have served it better.
Nevertheless, for the sheer feel-good value of the musical numbers and the performances of O’Dowd (in particular), Mailman and Mauboy, The Sapphires remains a film worth seeing that’s almost certain to leave you in a good mood afterwards.
Running time: 101mins
UK Release Date: August 24, 2011
London Film Festival Screenings: Monday, October 15 (Odeon West End 2), Thursday, October 18 (Hackney)
- Read our review
- Chris O'Dowd interview
- Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell interview
- Wayne Blair interview
- The Sapphires Photo Gallery