The Sapphires

Directed By: Wayne Blair

Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell

The music of today is some real crap.  We all know it.  We all hear it.  Some of us even do something about it.  Personally, I've found that I spend very little time listening to Top 40 radio anymore.  It genuinely sucks.  What passes for music today is truly a sin and a shame.  Consequently, I stay in the past and tend to go for the oldies.  I listen to the likes of Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross on a regular basis.  With this in mind, I welcomed a film like The Sapphires with open arms.  You can't go wrong with some old school jams and a few laughs.

Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) are three young Aboriginals living in a ranch in Cumeragunga in Australia.  These relatives all have one thing in common.  They can all sing.  Against their parents’ better judgment, they decide to compete in a music competition in town singing some country western.  Despite being the best performers, they're shunned by the racist whites in the audience and lose the competition.  However, there is one person who takes notice of them, the competition's alcoholic pianist Dave Lovelace (Chris O'Dowd).

When Lovelace connects with the girls after the event, Julie shows him an advertisement in a local newspaper for singers wanted in Vietnam to entertain the black troops.  She asks him to help her and the girls get to Saigon and become stars.  Lovelace may be a pale white guy, but his blood runs negro.  He knows about soul music, the likes of Sam Cooke, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.  This means he's sure that three Aboriginal girls singing some country western music won't get the job done.  If he's going to help them to entertain the brothers in Vietnam, they're going to need a new act.  To help them get there, the girls also enlist their estranged cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who was unjustly taken away from her family years ago by the government.

The Sapphires is a little bit of everything. It's a lighthearted, crowd-pleasing comedy.  It's a musical offering plenty of old school grooves.  It's a war movie that takes us back to the front lines in Vietnam.  It's a drama that navigates the complexities of the Australian social landscape and the plight of Aboriginals while also tackling the Civil Rights Movement raging in America and what that means for the troops of color in Vietnam.  That's a lot for one film to be, and I have to pay a serious compliment to director Wayne Blair for deftly weaving this hodgepodge of themes and genres into a gem of a film that hits all the right notes.

He had a solid supporting role offering a few good laughs in Bridesmaids a couple of years ago.  He offered plenty of comedy last year in Friends With Kids.  This year, Chris O'Dowd is the star of the show in The Sapphires, and he is on fire.  As the quirky pianist Dave Lovelace, O'Dowd shines and delivers 90% of the film's comedy.  The Irish actor is perfect in portraying this charismatic loser.  This guy just keeps getting funnier and funnier as time goes by.  I can't wait to see what he does next.

O'Dowd is joined by a talented group of young actresses who, with their vibrant personalities, certainly bring a healthy dose of humor to the film and plenty of the typical melodrama and romance that comes along with any singing group.  However, their largest contribution to The Sapphires is some top notch music.  With tunes like "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", "Who's Lovin' You", and "I'll Take You There", you simply can't go wrong.  While admittedly the last of those three aforementioned songs was released in 1972 and the movie primarily takes place in 1968, I'll give the filmmakers a pass on this chronological slip-up because they had me grooving to the sounds of these soulful Aboriginal girls.  These actresses can really sing, and they bring these old school jams back to life on the big screen.

Beyond the music and the comedy, The Sapphires is an intriguing drama that brings the social injustices brought upon the Aboriginals to the forefront.  It tackles the racism and discrimination these people routinely faced.  It tackles the atrocities committed by the Australian government taking fair-skinned Aboriginal children away from their families and teaching them white ways as well as the long-term consequences of these horrendous acts.  Additionally, The Sapphires takes us back to a war-torn Vietnam and an America plunged into chaos after the assassination of Martin Luther King.  It reintroduces us to the conflicted mindset of the black soldier who must wonder what he really fights for as his friends and loved ones suffer back home.  This is all some really heavy stuff to cover in a musical comedy.  While delving into these serious matters, director Wayne Blair impressively ensures that the movie still has its upbeat groove and its funny bone.

The best thing about The Sapphires is not that this little charming comedy somehow manages to blend so many genres and themes into a single coherent film.  It's that this is inspired by a true story and that there's a familial connection.  Tony Briggs, the son of Lauren Robinson (the real life Julie), wrote both the film and the stage production on which it is based.  In a fitting twist, these four soulful Aboriginal girls do find stardom through posterity.  That just makes this movie all the better.  The Sapphires gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.