Posted February 20, 2013 by Dale Barnett in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

The Sapphires


Dreamgirls meets Made in Dagenham in this sharp, intelligent,‘ feel good’ film that was reportedly met with rapturous applause on its international debut and a ten minute standing ovation in Cannes last year.

Dreamgirls
meets Made in Dagenham in this sharp, intelligent,‘ feel good’ film that was reportedly
met with rapturous applause on its international debut and a ten minute
standing ovation in Cannes last year.

Based on an incredible true story, The Sapphires is a witty re-telling of
Writer Tony Briggs’ real life mother
and Aunt, who formed half of a sensational Aboriginal girl group in 1960s
Australia.

The film tells the story of the familial
bond between four, feisty, empowered young indigenous women in the late 1950s
and 60s who are gifted singers with dreams of making it big. Whilst performing
a dreary country and western number at a talent contest in a dive bar in town
to an audience of unimpressed white folk (or ‘Gubbahs’ as they were known to
the girls), the sisters catch the attention of the MC; Dave Lovelace. (Chris O’Dowd) A downtrodden, sexist drunk who sleeps in his pants in the
back of his car, Dave doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of lust for life…until
the girls start singing.

After being forcibly removed from the
establishment and the surly Irishman stripped of his job, the sisters convince
Dave to be their band manager.

Dave agrees to get the girls an audition
for a tour entertaining troops in Vietnam, as long as they agree to switch to
singing soul tunes and he convinces their mother to let them go.

What ensues is a whirlwind phenomenon,
seeing the girls reach immense popularity and notoriety, finding delight in
delivering show-stopping ‘soultastic’ performances to packed crowds of excited
soldiers. However, the road to fame is a rocky one for our heroines, having to
navigate not only dangers of potential arms attacks and immanent explosions, but
certain bubbling resentments they have for each other as well.

As Dave Lovelace exclaims in their first
rehearsal; ‘soul is about pain and loss’. This is perhaps what comes to
compliment the historical setting of this film so neatly. The Sapphires is a film that teeters on the edge of many
socio-political issues plaguing society in 1960s Australia; racism, civil
rights, forced adoption, war- but never dares to delve too deep.

There is often a threat, within films of
this nature where a musical element such as live, diegtetic performances drive
the narrative, of sequences becoming too saccharine. Indeed there would be much
more cause for criticism of this work if the violent, troubled historical
context in which it is set, were forgotten entirely in favour of up-tempo crowd
pleasers that detract from the tumultuous back-drop.

Instead, The Sapphires gives its audience an accomplished and polished viewing
experience, complete with moments of melancholy poignancy, alongside utter joy
and hilarity. Part musical, part comedy and part romance, The Sapphires is certainly a roller-coaster ride of emotion.

The film should be viewed with focus on the
story of the girls themselves, rather than any attempt to make a racial or
historical statement. This is echoed during the end credits, where we are shown
photographs of the original real-life group on which the story is centered. The
context is a contributing factor, but not a defining one.

In an interview on one of the bonus DVD
featurettes, Director (and Aboriginal actor) Wayne Blair spoke of the casting process; “if we find four
unknowns, we find four unknowns”. Indeed after putting out an ad for four 18-24
year old Aboriginal actresses and singers, they settled on ex Australian Idol
contestant Jessica Mauboy alongside
relatively unrecognized actresses Deborah
Mailman
, Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens. Each played their parts
with likeability and flair, keeping you firmly invested in each characters’
development. Coupled with a script laden with sharp-tongued witticisms, foul
language and genuine aboriginal colloquialisms, the overall feel of the film is
refreshingly authentic and unaffected.

The blossoming romantic relationship
between headstrong mother figure Gail (Mailman)
and Dave, though lacking a certain authenticity, is undoubtedly charming and
beautifully acted throughout. It must also be said that the stunning musical
talent of Jessica Mauboy as lead vocalist, Julie, will make you want to
purchase The Sapphires soundtrack
immediately after listening.

If not taken too seriously, The Sapphires is an undeniably
entertaining and uplifting film that gives a small glimpse into the lives of
four inspirational women looking to share their passion and provide harmony in
an arena of global discordance.


Dale Barnett