This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 30th September 2012
Dave Lovelace is your stereotypical unruly, drunken Irishman, inexplicably on a jaunt Down Under and hanging out in a dusty Outback pub, where he plays lackadaisical piano accompaniment to the local talent quest.
When he identifies the gifted Aboriginal girl group as the best thing going, he is quickly swept up in their flight of fancy: to leave small-town life for a tour entertaining the troops in Vietnam.
It’s 1968 and we are swiftly reminded that, back then, Australia was downright racist, and the Outback particularly integrationally challenged. Dave (Chris O’Dowd, in hot demand after Bridesmaids) and the girls are an unlikely collaboration, except he’s Irish and distrusted by the locals, which makes them all outsiders really. Attracted to the girls’ sassy, can-do attitude, he posits himself as their manager and before we have time to think “But that’s ridiculous!” they are having chintzy dresses fitted in Saigon markets and mash-potatoing in front of hundreds of enthusiastic US marines. If such a tale seems inconceivable, then viewers will be surprised to know this is based on a true story.
What makes The Sapphires sparkle is its music. The four girls, led by the feisty, maternal Gail (Deborah Mailman from Rabbit Proof Fence, whose story shares its dark past with this one) all sport rich voices and shine in every performance.
O’Dowd is great fun, imbuing his cliched character with perfect comic timing and a laidback buffoonery seen before, but reliably enjoyable. The girls are thinly drawn (the tough-nut bossy one, the slutty one, and so on) but still well portrayed. There are a few awkward moments in the script and acting, and narratively the film takes the easy way out, while missing opportunities to be clever.
Despite its slightly flat notes, The Sapphires is such a charming and intoxicating fantasy, it is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleasing hit.