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The Sapphires

The Sapphires (Wayne Blair, 2011) wr. Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs, from his play; Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell (original stage cast: Deborah Mailman, Rachael Maza, Lisa Flanagan, Ursula Yovich)

There's a lack of continuity in the way the story is told, which, given the seriousness of the contexts (stolen generations, Vietnam War) is noticeable. But it's forgivable, as the other genres, backstage musical and romance, fortunately tend to obscure it. Deborah Mailman's performance is superb, and the music is good. Chris O'Dowd is OK, but should not have won best actor at the 2012 AACTAs; neither should the film have won the top award.

The Sapphires is based on Tony Briggs' 2004 stage musical which in turn was based on the life of his mother, Laurel Robinson, who's the Julie character in the movie. What's great about The Sapphires is its sense of fun - it's sassy, bright, breezy and often hilarious - and the four women are terrific. It raises some serious questions - about Australian racism and the pointless war in Vietnam - but doesn't dwell too deeply on them. Chris O'Dowd, recently seen as the cop in Bridesmaids, is splendid as the manager of these feisty, independent Aussie girls and Wayne Blair's confident direction papers over the dodgy bits in the narrative. If you want a feel-good home-grown movie, this is the film for you. David Stratton, At the Movies.

The film's theatrical origins are sometimes evident in the tone, but it's not a major flaw. For me, there is an awkwardness, a sense of inauthenticity to some of the film (eg the talent quest in the local pub early in the story, with comedienne Judith Lucy overacting), despite some wonderful moments and a couple of excellent performances.
Chris O'Dowd is hands down the film's greatest asset, a wonderful actor who conveys sincerity through all his character's weak spots as well as the strengths. His depiction of Irish Dave, who becomes the accidental talent scout and the group's manager, is so seamless created and so likeably real we instantly attach to him. That's a result of everything working in harmony for the character, from the writing to the performance to the direction. ... In a 'star is born' genre film like this, we need a big finish, but this is only partly achieved, muting the effect. (Obviously not for the audience at the film's world premiere at Cannes, where it received a standing ovation.) Andrew L. Urban, Urban Cinefile.

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Garry Gillard | New: 13 December, 2012 | Now: 28 June, 2020