Dvd let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Stephen Fitz­patrick

IT’S hard to imag­ine how any­one could still not have seen Wayne Blair’s mu­si­cal feel­good hit The Sap­phires, with its star cast, pos­i­tive vibe and glow­ing re­views. The film has been a fes­ti­val hit in the US and else­where since its out-of­com­pe­ti­tion de­but at Cannes, is due to close the Dubai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val tonight and has been a box-of­fice mon­ster at home, tak­ing al­most $15 mil­lion. It’s got 12 nominations for the pres­ti­gious Aus­tralian Academy of Cin­ema and Tele­vi­sion Awards to be an­nounced in Jan­uary, and last week trade jour­nal Va­ri­ety named Blair one of its 10 direc­tors to watch.

And if all that has passed you by, surely you can’t have missed the bill­board ad­ver­tis­ing.

But that’s what DVD re­leases are for: to catch the crowds who didn’t make it into the cin­ema the first time around. While the high-en­ergy mu­sic that features here may have more oomph when heard in a full-sized the­atre, don’t let that put you off mak­ing it your ex­cuse for a Satur­day night in. As Dave Lovelace (Ir­ish co­me­dian Chris O’Dowd) puts it to the quar­tet that he is about to help trans­form from the self-con­scious Cum­mer­a­ganja Song­birds to world-class girl band the Sap­phires: ‘‘Ninety per cent of recorded mu­sic is shite. The other 10 per cent is soul.’’ You’ve just got to go with the groove, baby.

Lovelace, an al­co­holic, dis­il­lu­sioned Ir­ish DJ who has wound up in coun­try Aus­tralia, hap­pens across the Song­birds (the three McCrae sis­ters, played by Deb­o­rah Mail­man, Jes­sica Mauboy and Mi­randa Tapsell) per­form­ing in 1968 in a coun­try pub tal­ent quest. They are quite clearly the best thing in the room but are dis­crim­i­nated against for be­ing Abo­rig­i­nal by the fe­male pub­li­can, who tells them to ‘‘go back to your humpy’’.

One thing leads to an­other — the ex­po­si­tion scenes are gen­er­ally fairly straight-ahead af­fairs — and, with the ad­di­tion of light-skinned cousin Kay McCrae (Shari Sebbens) and some in­ten­sive coach­ing from Lovelace, they pol­ish their act into a soul mu­sic sen­sa­tion and are quickly off to Viet­nam to en­ter­tain the troops.

There’s plenty here in terms of the war in In­dochina that is to­tally un­re­al­is­tic, but don’t let lack of cred­i­bil­ity be a big hur­dle. It’s meant to be a piece of en­ter­tain­ment first and, as co-writer Tony Briggs pointed out at its cin­ema re­lease, a story that deals with Aus­tralian race re­la­tions of the era sec­ond (al­beit in an hon­est way). Briggs wrote the 2004 stage play on which the film is based and his co-writer here, Keith Thompson, has done a lot of writ­ing for tele­vi­sion in the past, so the whole thing sparkles.

There are some touch­ing mo­ments and it’s all based on a real story: Briggs’s mother, Lau­rel Robin­son, was part of the orig­i­nal in­dige­nous singing group that toured Viet­nam. O’Dowd, whose star first as­cended with Bri­tish TV com­edy The IT Crowd but then went as­tro­nom­i­cal with Hol­ly­wood hit Brides­maids, walks a nice line be­tween com­edy and drama, while Mail­man and Mauboy bring a sense of fun and author­ity, as do new­com­ers Sebbens and Tapsell. There are the req­ui­site love sto­ries and a warm-hearted end­ing that plays con­vinc­ingly.

This week

(M) Road­show (326min, $29.95)

(M) Mad­man (95min, $24.95)

(MA15+) Mad­man (136min, $29.95)

(MA15+) Road­show (85min, $24.95)

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