out of Five
Running time: 103
Hugely entertaining, sparkily directed feelgood Australian drama with a superb script, delightful musical numbers and outstanding performances from the entire cast.
What's it all about?
Directed by Wayne Blair, The Sapphires is based on both a remarkable true story and a hit stage musical. Set in 1968 Australia, the film stars Chris O'Dowd as drunken Irish talent scout Dave Lovelace, who discovers an all-girl Aboriginal group – sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Australian Idol star Jessica Mauboy) - calling themselves the Cummeragunja Song Birds.
After recruiting their white cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), Dave persuades the group to rename themselves The Sapphires and ditch country and western in favour of soul songs, before taking them on a tour to entertain US troops in Vietnam.
Chris O'Dowd (thankfully permitted to use his own accent, since his character is Australian in the musical) is terrific as Dave, sparking strong chemistry with the girls and delivering a performance that is both charming and laugh-out-loud funny, courtesy of his killer comic timing. Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy are equally good, while Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens both get their own chances to shine in romantic sub-plots, with Tapsell also nabbing all the best one-liners not already bagged by O'Dowd.
The script is excellent, combining toe-tapping musical numbers, colourful humour and powerfully emotional moments, while also making a strong political point and successfully aligning the treatment of aborigines with the US Civil Rights movement, thanks to some astute editing. On top of that, the musical numbers themselves are brilliantly performed; indeed, this is very much the sort of film that sends you straight out to buy the soundtrack afterwards.
Blair's control of the material is extremely impressive, maintaining the perfect balance of tone throughout. He also orchestrates a number of thoroughly enjoyable sequences, particularly the rehearsal scenes and Dave delivering an impassioned speech to the girls about what soul music means to the dispossessed (a speech that deliberately evokes Alan Parker's wonderful The Commitments).
The Sapphires is a hugely enjoyable feelgood drama with a superb soundtrack, a strong script, and wonderful performances from O'Dowd and all four girls. Highly recommended.