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.
(M) Roadshow (326min, $29.95)
(M) Madman (95min, $24.95)
(MA15+) Madman (136min, $29.95)
(MA15+) Roadshow (85min, $24.95)