The Sapphires (2012)
Dir: Wayne Blair
This is what every review will say about this film: ‘feel-good Australian version of Dreamgirls, loosely based on a true story’. That’s because it’s actually quite accurate. Four girls (three sisters and their cousin) sing cute harmonies in 1958 at a concert in the Cummeragunja Mission, a remote outback station. Cut to 1968 (via images of the times – protest marches; JFK; Muhammad Ali) and they are a poor aboriginal family living in a shack, but clean and loved, and singing around the house.
They want to go to the local town to sing in a talent quest, although Julie (Jessica Mauboy) isn’t allowed to go because she’s too young, although she’s the best singer. The other sisters try to hitch a lift but end up walking. “It’s because we’re black” says the oldest, Gail (Deborah Mailman) matter-of-factly. “No, it’s because you’re ugly” replies Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), setting the tone. There is no self-pity, but there is plenty of attitude.
|The Cummeragunja Songbirds|
Chris O’Dowd steals the show as he has great delivery and he gets all the best lines. He persuades the girls they need him – “Without me, there’s no you” – and he gets them the gig through an unscrupulous promoter, Myron (Don Battee). He teaches the girls about soul, and if it seems odd that a white Irish man is preaching soul music to black women who aren’t even included in their national census, the irony is entirely intentional.
|Chris O'Dowd as Dave Lovelace - he's a soul man!|
They get the gig; they change their name to The Sapphires (from the Cummeragunja Songbirds); they go to Vietnam; they sing. The music is good and the playlist includes fantastic numbers such as Hold On, I’m Coming, Who’s Loving You?, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, I’ll Take You There, and What a Man. The comic contrast between their natural accents and the poignant numbers they belt out is reminiscent of the regional dissonance in The Commitments.
|One, Two, Three, Four!|