There are a lot of inspirational ‘based on a true story’ movies out there that are designed to corral an audience and get them rooting for the protagonist and wiping away tears and cheering in the finale. They are the bread and butter of movie studios everywhere, especially if you are named Harvey Weinstein. Yes, he is all about big screen manipulation, and his early year release ‘The Sapphires’ is no exception. Released throughout the festival circuit last year, ‘The Sapphires’ garnered a lot of buzz and picked up a few scattered awards and mentions before finally being released this year here in the states.
Has anyone else heard of this movie?
This film chronicles the journey four young Aboriginal girls take to ‘sing for the troops’ during the Vietnam War in 1968. These young girls are initially chastised by the locals in the area because of their race, but when a foreigner takes a fancy to their talent, they are soon the talk of the town. Ushered overseas, the girls become The Sapphires, a sassy and talented group of soul sisters singing soul music to the troops who are risking their lives in combat.
‘The Sapphires’ tries to be more than that.
Discussing a very dark time in Australian history, the core of ‘The Sapphires’ has to do with the racial rape of the land and the fact that young Aboriginal children who were lighter skinned were actually yanked from their homes and placed in ‘white’ foster care, taught ‘white’ ways and basically brainwashed to be ‘white’ children. Baz Luhrmann’s maligned ‘Australia’ flirted with the same history. This film (nor Baz’s film) really get into the heart of that story, for they are preoccupied telling a different one. ‘The Sapphires’ has a music group to sell us, and a manufactured love story to weave. Thankfully, the two leads are endearing enough to hold our attention, despite the fact that the film itself delves into ridiculously formulaic territory and just kind of falls apart. Underdog stories are great, and biopics are rewarding, but some films can’t get out of the rutt created by the genre, and ‘The Sapphires’ fits nicely in that rutt.
It’s just forgettable.
That is a description that can be used quite a bit here. The musical numbers are forgettable, despite having some great music to choose from. Their voices just aren’t special enough. While each of the main four girls show glimpses of promise, by the middle of the film three of them have pretty much become forgettable props. Jessica Mauboy starts the film with such ferocity, but by the third or fourth scene she’s completely tossed aside and given little more to do other than lip-sync. Oh, and before I forget, the lip-syncing in this film is so bad it’s distracting, especially when it is that evident that they aren’t moving their mouths at the right time or in the right way. Miranda Tapsell starts off making ugly faces (Octavia Spencer style) and then becomes a cliché of heavy drinking and loose morals but we couldn’t care less. Shari Sebbens has some nice scenes, but she isn’t the most competent actress and doesn’t sell them all.
Deborah Mailman is the star of the females here, and she could etch out a nice career for herself if she’s given the chance. Truly though, this film belongs to Chris O’Dowd, who is a genuine TREASURE here. He’s is natural, charming, utterly hilarious, forward, believable and honest. His character is also the most compelling, which could also be labeled a detractor since we have a film about the triumph of minorities and yet the most interesting character (and the best performance by a GIANT margin) is the white guy.
But I’m not one of those people, so I won’t complain about it.
When the film ending my only thought was ‘I want to see more Chris O’Dowd movies’ and so I will, but sadly I didn’t think anything about these four women, their struggles or the horrible ‘lost years’ that are described on the film’s outset as if it were something they were really going to discuss.
Oh, and Don Battee is GOD AWFUL in this movie.
I give this a C. It has some nice aspects, but overall this is pretty lackluster. That being said, I’m wondering if this could surprise with the Globes. The Comedy/Musical categories are stacked to the sky, but this feels like a very Globes film, and Chris O’Dowd really deserves a nomination. If this were last year, I’d say it would be a lock, but I have a feeling that it could be snubbed for all the dramas that are sneaking into this category.