1968, the height of the Vietnam War. Gail (Mailman), Cynthia (Tapsell) and Julie (Mauboy) are three sisters who live with their family in the Australian outback. Performing a Country & Western act at a local talent contest, they’re spotted by boozy, would-be manager Dave Lovelace (O’Dowd), who thinks they’ve got talent. Re-fashioning them into a soul quartet with their cousin Kay (Sebbens), Dave organises for the girls to go on tour in Vietnam performing for the troops…
As The Sapphires concerns a scrappy Aboriginal girl-group who’re moulded into sassy soul performers, you could describe it as Dreamgirls meets The Commitments: Down Under. While the plot sounds like fabricated, seen-it-before Hollywood fluff (which, to a certain degree, it is), the story is actually inspired by true happenings. Based on the 2004 play by Tony Briggs (whose mother and aunt actually travelled to Vietnam to perform for war troops), Wayne Blair’s big screen adaptation balances foot-tapping soul classics, acerbic Aussie insults and uncomplicated drama to crowd-pleasing effect.
To clarify: this isn’t meant as an insult. For while The Sapphires unfolds in a predictable manner where subplots are forgotten about and obstacles are easily overcome (IE, their Mum is easily convinced to let the girls go, Julie being too young to go isn’t really a problem), it does so in a way which is entertaining and likeable. That it is can be attributed to both Blair and his cast, who ensure that their cliched roles feel more fun and sparky than they do generic. As older, mumma-bear sister Gail, Deborah Mailman does most of the heavy-lifting, while Irish comic Chris O’Dowd is superbly cast as boozy, self-proclaimed soul brother Dave Lovelace. Okay, so their songs are lip-synched, but Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy offers a belting voice as Julie, while the various Motown numbers are sparky, lively and energetic.
While predictable and fluffy, The Sapphires balances foot-tapping soul classics, acerbic Aussie insults and uncomplicated drama to crowd-pleasing effect.