The Sapphires is a formula we've seen before, but with a different tune, literally. They sing, get it? Tune = sing. OK, you might not have enjoyed that turn of a phrase, but while you watch this film you'll get plenty of quality Chris O'Dowd. Now if you'll go back and read my tune = music rant in his voice, you'll realize just how charming I was.
Four young Aboriginal girls have amazing voices that take them all the way from the Outback to Vietnam in 1968. We have Deborah Mailman as Gail (the momma bird), Shari Sebbens as Kay (the white one), Jessica Mauboy as Julie (the perfect voice), and Miranda Tapsell as Cynthia (the horny one). They were all unknown to me, but it appears they all do their own singing. Mauboy is even a former contestant of Australian Idol. I adore the fact that none of these women are model thin, and absolutely have plenty of beauty in their look, voice and attitude. O'Dowd fits in as a down and out MC, wannabe singer/musician who becomes their manager because of one thing ... he understands soul.
It's filled with great songs like, "Run Through the Jungle," "Soul Man" and "Hold On I'm Coming." Yes, I know we've heard all of them before, but there is an earnestness that makes them work seamlessly in this film.
Perhaps what separates this film the most is it's filled with an even greater O'Dowd as Dave Lovelace. In the film's most enjoyable scene, he attempts to explain to the girls the difference between Western and soul. He does it with a little help from the song "I'll Take You There." In fact, if it was up to me (which it really should be) that scene would be the entire trailer for the film. It gives you everything you need to know about the vibe of the film; it's tone, heart and humor shine without giving away one single twist or turn.
Not everything is sunshine and lollipops with this film. I'll never understand lip-synching a musical performance in movies, and it occasionally hurts the joy (and sorrow) of The Sapphires. It's almost worse than the unnecessary use of sporadic historical footage. There's also some moments that just miss their mark, have too much melodrama, or aren't even told. Gail and Kay have an unresolved fight from their childhood and immediately clash in the film. An hour later they have an even worse fight. They never talk to each other about it, and I guess it's just assumed to have resolved itself. Also, it's barely political, and deals with race with kid gloves on, save for two scenes. This is especially shocking when you learn what these "based on a true story" ladies have been up to.
My hunch is most of our moms will actually love this film even more than us. Yes, that means it's a crowd-pleaser. Get over that. Yes, it's a story about minorities trying to lift up their lives. Get over that. Yes, some annoying critic out there will dare compare it to The Help. Get over that. The Sapphries gives us great O'Dowd, a touching story, and great music from the '60s. That's plenty even if it's not a new tune.
4 out of 5 stars