I’m a sucker for sentimental 1960s-tinged musicals, so it should be no surprise that I adored The Sapphires! The movie stakes a claim for a new breed of musicals focused on a girl group who do fight from time to time, but do present the revolutionary (note the sarcasm) idea that women can love each other unconditionally. While it does hit a few cliché stops on the roadmap of musical biopics, including a stop at the “drunk or drug” section, the cast of actors, anchored by Chris O’Dowd, keeps things entertaining and fun.
Four Australian Aboriginal girls form a girl-group with the desire to sing, and make it big, for the troops in Vietnam. With help of a drunken lout who becomes their manager (O’Dowd), the renamed group The Sapphires discover more about themselves while fulfilling their dreams.
I saw a trailer for this a few months ago and fell in love with it. One of my favorite musicals is That Thing You Do!, and The Sapphires borrows heavily from that film albeit without the cheerful winking at the camera that the former film did. Based on a true story, the movie charts the trajectory of the band while including information on what was going on in Australian at the time. The 1960s wasn’t just filled with racism in America; Australia had quite the hatred for the Aborigines and hoped to “cleanse” things by taking white-looking Aborigines and teaching them to pass for Caucasian. There’s a subplot exploring this in the characters of Kay (Shari Sebbens) and Sapphires mama bear Gail (Deborah Mailman). While the two are at odds due to Kay’s desire to be white, the movie never has them claw or needle each other the way we normally see women in movies. The history isn’t the predominant focus, but we see the group as fully-fleshed out characters, and their connection to their country is part of that. There’s an added element of humor in the fact that these are dark-skinned girl singing country music, a fact that doesn’t pass by manager Dave Lovelace. His gimmick is to have the girls sing soul, and from there the movie’s snappy soundtrack is simply lovely. I don’t normally purchase soundtracks but lead singer Julie (Jessica Mauboy) has a lovely voice and you’ll be tapping your foot to some essential soul classics.
The cast all come together to make a true family as opposed to a series of people brought together by circumstance. Mailman, Mauboy, Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell are a lively bunch with distinctive personalities. A general failure of these biopics is to focus on one or two in the group and leave the rest generic, not so here. Each group member has a personality, a back-story, and all coalesce into a sisterhood that cares for each other. Chris O’Dowd jumps in with the funny as Dave Lovelace. He’s a drunken mess who straightens things out a little too easily but he’s endearing and fun in all the right ways.
As I mentioned above, the movie does hit a few of the necessary points made in all movies of this kind. There’s the in-fighting between Kay and Gail, and Julie and the group, that gets resolved in a Lifetime way (and by that I mean it’s a simple “I’m sorry” and it’s solved). You also have Cynthia dealing with a drinking problem that’s resolved by a literal attack on the US troops during the girls’ performance in Vietnam. We also are told a character has died only to reveal after ten solid minutes they were fine. It’s trite, but the rest of the movie remains consistently entertaining that you can gloss over the flaws.
In a year that’s given out pure entertainment (I enjoyed the hell out of Olympus Has Fallen); The Sapphires blends that with a dash of heart to make a charming, and foot-tapping musical worth experiencing.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.