THE SAPPHIRES (100 min) (M)
REVIEW: Directed by Wayne Blair.
Starring Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman, Chris O'Dowd
It is 1968. Around the world, revolution and conflict are exploding everywhere. In Vietnam the battle of Khe Sanh, and the Tet Offensive, will begin to turn mainstream American public opinion firmly against the war.
Across Europe, Africa, and America, students and workers' protests against various governments and regimes are making the front pages of papers around the world. At the Mexico City Olympics, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos give the black power salute from the victory dais after winning the gold and bronze medals in the 200 metres. (Beside them, Australian silver medallist Peter Norman publicly supports their actions.)
And in Australia, four young Koori women have just been given the chance to go to Vietnam to perform for the American troops there.
Based, loosely, on the real-life experiences of writer Tony Briggs' mother and aunt, The Sapphires follows the four performers from talent quests in outback pubs that were still ''whites only'' to the R and R camps in a Vietnam that is about to be rocked by the Viet Cong's counter offensives. All of which makes The Sapphires sound like a serious and gruelling couple of hours at the cinema, when the film is actually an immensely enjoyable and entertaining night out.
By emphasising the music and the relationships between the group and their manager (Chris O'Dowd, from Bridesmaids, in fine form) director Wayne Blair has kept The Sapphires light, likable, and deservedly popular. At one level, it's no more than The Commitments re-set in Australia and South East Asia. However, among the laughs and terrific performances - a couple of the cast, Jessica Mauboy in particular, have got seriously good pipes on them - Blair still finds the moments to slip in the politics and the commentary that give the story its bite and its pathos.
The balance isn't always perfectly struck. The entire third act of the film feels rushed and compromised, with story and coherence sacrificed to make room for the music. But overall The Sapphires does very well indeed. This is a truly likable film, with a great soundtrack, and plenty on its mind.
- The Dominion Post
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