Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Sapphires (2012) ***½

“90% of the music out there is shite.  The other 10% is Soul.”  Thus, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) convinces a group of Australian aboriginal girls to stop performing Country songs and to seek greatness by embracing their blackness. Gail, Cynthia, and Julie are sisters, and these girls can sing!  When Dave hears them at a talent contest, he sees potential that the racist townsfolk are blind to.  The girls recruit their light-skinned cousin, Kay, who is passing as a white girl in the city, and together they form The Sapphires.  Dave arranges a tour entertaining troops in Vietnam, and the girls quickly find a following.
“The Sapphires” is one of those movies that knows exactly what it wants to be.  It has a little to say about Race, a little to say about Love, and a lot of music to offer, and it does those things in a nice, orderly fashion.  No excess sentimentality, no cheap plot twists, just charm and soul.  The film is highly reminiscent of 1991’s “The Commitments,” which is okay because both are fun, small movies full of good music.  Chris O’Dowd is charming as always, and the girls are delightful.
I didn’t realize until the end that “The Sapphires” is based, albeit loosely, on an actual Aborigine girl group from the 60’s.  The original Sapphires didn’t become big stars, and they are not to be confused with the American group by the same name.  The film is based on the play “The Sapphires” by Tony Briggs, son of one of the original Sapphires.   The film touches on Australia’s racial history, including the government-run program of abducting light-skinned Aborigine kids, but it manages not to be heavy-handed.  Mostly, the music takes center stage, and none of it is “shite”.

3 ½ stars out of 5

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