The Sapphires is a 1960’s period piece that tells the story of four aboriginal girls with the unified dream of becoming a successful singing group. Discovered at a local talent show by Dave Lovelace (played by the IT Crowd‘s Chris O’Dowd), the four girls, Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Aussie pop sensation Jessica Mauboy), Kay (Shari Sebbens) and Cynthia (MIranda Tapsell) are coached in the way of song and dance, all with the goal of entertaining soldiers in the newly erupted conflict in Vietnam. Leaving their families behind as they chase dreams of stardom, the girls and their manager / bandmate take to the war torn front lines of the Vietnam conflict. At first, the dreams of becoming stars seem to be coming true as these talented performers give their hearts and voices to the soldiers. Eventually, the reality of war sets in and intrudes in on their idyllic orchestrations. Through friendship, trust and the passion of their music, the Sapphires survive setback and adversity to emerge not as the stars that they hoped to become, but as the people they were meant to be.
A well picked cast and beautiful shooting are the strengths of this movie. Great performances are made by Deborah Mailman and Chris O’Dowd as the eldest sister and the struggling manager musician. The look of the movie evokes a genuine glimpse into both the joys of musical expression and the uncertainty of war. There is a component of the story that is dedicated to the racial overtones of the time, but these overtones are told from an Australian perspective which are ever so slightly different from traditional American perspectives on these things. It’s mildly jarring because of that disparity, but it doesn’t derail the rest of the story.
Peppered with electric musical pieces, The Sapphires calls to mind movies like The Five Heartbeats and La Bamba, movies where the music is a mere detail that completes the main portrait of a story. What makes a movie like this memorable is its attention to the minutiae involved in authenticating the settings and surroundings in which the movie unfolds. Every detail is seemingly handpicked in order to paint the most complete picture of what life on the front lines for performers must have been like. Nothing is left to chance, everything from the wardrobe to the instruments of the band members screams of authenticity.
Overall, The Sapphires is a surprisingly watchable movie, attributed to the performances by the cast and the soulful soundtrack, but mainly for the snapshot it provides for that particular moment in history.
The Sapphires opens today at the Ritz Five.