Musical films seem to be the rage nowadays. Joining the ranks of dark comedies, found-footage horrors and superhero movies, films that carry off a decent tune are holding their own against the competition, such as Pitch Perfect and the Academy-Award Les Misérables (2012). However, there have been a few musical films that have attempted to portray taboo social issues while maintain a sense of charisma.
The Sapphires (2012) is based on the play written by Tony Briggs, who also acts as the film’s screenwriter. Set in 1960’s Australia, four young Aboriginal girls from the McCrae family, known as the ‘The Sapphires’, are hired to entertain the US troops in Vietnam with loveable rogue Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) as their manager. They soon experience a life-changing journey together while learning about love and loss during their tour.
Based on the true story of Briggs’ mother and directed by Wayne Blair (director of the stage play), this feel-good comedy skims over the taboo issues of racial discrimination and identity crises in favour of the ‘ahhh’ factor and the catchy soulful songs. The dramatic performances from the cast, which also includes Australian Idol‘s Jessica Mauboy and the stage production’s Deborah Maliman, often do not come across as strong as they can be – mirroring their characters’ sentiments of unfamiliar territory.
Aside from its predictability and half-hearted effort to make it more significant to the Aboriginal plight, the overall sentiment promoted by The Sapphires is one of optimism and occasional sweetness that makes you smile. It works the same thread as the classic underdog story; a once-broken family with a flawed yet responsible mentor sticking together through thick and thin, and Blair fortunately does not overwork the sentimentality.
Slightly lacklustre in drama but sassy and lighthearted, The Sapphires is an enjoyable film and is a pretty good platform to show the power of Motown.
The Sapphires is out on DVD on Monday 4th March 2013.
Director: Wayne Blair
Writers: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
Stars:Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, Shari Sebbens
Runtime: 104 min