Monday, 26 August 2013

The Sapphires (2013) - ★★★½

Director: Wayne Blair
Writers: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
Stars: Deborah Mailman, Chris O'Dowd, Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, Shari Sebbens

The Sapphires is a fun, entertaining, politically correct film that is sure to go down as an Aussie classic. I liked it, but I feel it could have been so much better. With the enormous talent of the cast, particularly Deborah Mailman, I could see this story as a masterpiece of cinema. Wayne Blair managed to turn it into a good film, but it's a film that only dabbles into certain issues. We get a glimpse of Australian history and racism, a glimpse of romance, a glimpse of drama, a fair amount of comedy, and a helluva lot of soul music. The problem with this film, and indeed a lot of modern Australian films, is that they've become too Hollywood. The Aussie accents are a little overdone, the Aussie sayings are a little out of place, and all of this is done for the benefit of foreign audiences. It stuck out like a sore thumb to me.

It's 1968, and three aboriginal sisters partake in a talent contest at their local pub. The Irish MC, Dave Lovelace (Chris O'Dowd), is convinced that they've got enough talent to make it to Vietnam as entertainment for the troops. After they recruit their cousin, the five of them set off for Vietnam, where the pay is good and drama is just around the corner.

There's some absolutely fantastic music played throughout the film. My absolute favourite song played at the very end, "Can't Help Myself," by The Four Tops. It's really lighthearted and uplifting whenever they sing their songs. In all honesty, the music is by far the biggest treat the film has to offer.

Deborah Mailman (in the red) and Shari Sebbens (in the green) really impressed me.
One of the highlights for me was Deborah Mailman's performance as the abrupt, loud, bossy, large and in charge oldest sister. There's one scene where she is reading a letter from the man she loves, and absolutely breaks down in tears. She almost moved me to tears... her acting talents were far too great for a film like this. I've seen her in a few other Aussie films, my favourite being Radiance (1998). She's an actress to look out for... I hope she breaks into the international market one day.

Chris O'Dowd gave a really good performance too. He provided almost all of the comic relief, and it worked most of the time. Sometimes his jokes fell flat, and other times I found him plain annoying. It's a little annoying to me that he's advertised as the star, when his role was smaller than that of Deborah Mailman. My favourite character was Kay, a very light skinned Aboriginal who was taken away by the Australian government. If you didn't know, the government believed that the best thing for Indigenous children was to take them from their parents and breed them out (thus the term half-cast was given to Aboriginals who were taken). She was played by Sharia Sebbens, who gave a sympathetic and believable performance. I feel like they could have delved deeper into her character, because it must have been traumatic to be taken away, and I'd like to know why she decided to join the girls again. Jessica Mauboy and Miranda Tapsell gave great performances too, but didn't stand out as much as the others.

One thing that I'm not a huge fan of: when a film is so over-the-top that it becomes unbelievable. That's what happened with The Sapphires. I was never convinced of this true story, for it was seen through such a sunshiny, rosy, jazzy lens, which made the characters and dialogue seem so contrived. While it may look like natural banter to foreign audiences, it just didn't seem natural to me. It's a very inspiring story, but one that could have used a little more realism and bluntness, rather than comedic conversations that could belong to any average Hollywood rom-com.

The Sapphires wasn't a particularly gripping tale, nor did it have me roaring with laughter. In the end, it was just very so-so. It turned out good performances, and it shed a tiny bit of light on Australia's racist history to aboriginals. I personally feel that it could have been so much better, because to me it's almost entirely forgettable. Wake me up when Australia makes a film that really explores their characters, rather than writes them for a cheesy Hollywood audience.


  1. Nice review I do agree that the singing is the best part about the movie.

    1. Jessica Mauboy is somewhat of a pop sensation down here, so it's no surprise that the singing was phenomenal.