A good song gets in your bones when you hear it. Even if the lyrics are dumb or vapid, sometimes a song just makes you feel good, good enough to sing along and dance â€“ or at least tap your feet or sway a bit if youâ€™re in public.
The Australian music dramedy "The Sapphires" is that sensation in film form. Iâ€™m wonâ€™t say that I was singing and bopping in my seat as the movie went along (and thatâ€™s the story Iâ€™m sticking with), but I will say that by the midway point, director Wayne Blairâ€™s film and its unapologetically feel-good warmth and energy won me over completely.
Aussies Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Miranda Tapsell star as a band of musically gifted Aboriginal sisters during the late â€™60s. Gail (Mailman) is the groupâ€™s straight-talking, strong-willed leader, Cynthia (Tapsell) is bubbly and light-hearted, and Julie (Mauboy) is the youngest but also has the strongest pipes.
While America was in the midst of a heated fight over civil rights, across the Pacific, the Aboriginal people were having their own struggles. Up until 1971, the government took many indigenous children with light skin and white blood from their families and gave them to new adoptive parents in the hopes of turning them into "civilized" Australians, trained to hate their origins. Dark-skinned Aboriginal people were left to the outskirts, where they were considered a part of the "floura and fauna" by the government, which assumed they would eventually just die out.
Despite the inevitable racist taunts and glares, the trio ventures out from their isolated desert mission town to sing some country numbers at a nearby talent contest. They lose Bigot Idol, but during the show, they impress hard-drinking, down-on-his-luck â€“and I should add fictional â€“ manager Dave Lovelace (Chris Oâ€™Dowd, the Irish scene stealer from "Bridesmaids"). Dave gets the ladies to ditch the country music and pick up his personal preference: soul. They also hesitantly pick up Kay (Sheri Sebbens, making her film debut), a childhood friend stolen by the government and refitted for white society.
Dave teaches them some dance moves and some songs â€“ many actual covers by Mauboy, a one-time runner-up on Australiaâ€™s "American Idol" â€“ and their talents do the rest, taking them all the way to Vietnam, where they perform for troops.
Of course, thereâ€™s drama along the way. Daveâ€™s laid-back lifestyle and ideas conflict with Gailâ€™s strong personality and concern for her sisters, the relationship between Kay and Gail is still damaged and oh yeah, thereâ€™s a war going on all around them.
The script, written by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs (the son of one the actual Sapphires) doesnâ€™t really care too much about these little dramas. Every time one of these issues pops up, the movie pretty much laughs it off or quickly moves on to something new. A fight between Gail and Kay â€“ complete with fisticuffs â€“ almost immediately transitions to Gail and Dave quickly talking and then flirting alongside a river.
Normally, hitting on this many subplots so lightly with such reckless abandon would be a detriment, but in the case of "The Sapphires," it works in its favor. Blair and company seem to have as little interest in getting bogged down in tedious and hackneyed biopic in-dramas as the audience. Theyâ€™re simply content to tell a spirited tale about some talented people doing some special things together, so they add just enough tension to give the film a little weight and let the feel-good enthusiasm carry it into audienceâ€™s hearts.
Itâ€™s a smart move considering the cast at Blairâ€™s disposal. All four of the leading ladies effortlessly light up the screen, especially newcomer Sebbens and Mailman, an award winner in Australia who hits all the right notes. Then thereâ€™s Oâ€™Dowd, whose droopy dog everyman routine never ceases to charm. Memo to Hollywood: Get this man a well-written comedy star vehicle and preferably soon.
Despite all of its loaded components â€“ the Vietnam War, racism in Australia â€“ "The Sapphires" never tries to do more or be more than it wants. Blair doesnâ€™t mean to get too deep or challenging. He aims to please, and frankly, itâ€™s nice to see a movie not just eager to please but good at it too.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Sept. 23, 2016
The Milwaukee Film Festival is here, and as a proud sponsor since the very first year, OnMilwaukee is honored to bring you Spotlight Presentations and a new sports series, Sportsball!, this year. We'll also bring you our "don't miss" picks every day.
Published Sept. 23, 2016
The 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival opened Thursday evening much the way the last rendition closed: with a documentary tribute to finding meaning at the movies, this time via "Life, Animated," a sweet and lovely moving picture - in all meanings of the phrase.
Published Sept. 19, 2016
With almost 300 movies set to screen during the Milwaukee Film Festival, it can be almost impossible to figure out what to see. OnMilwaukee film critic Matt Mueller is here to help, breaking down each day with what you must see.
Published Sept. 16, 2016
Looking around Reed Street Yards, it's hard not to think it would be a perfect place for a nature-conscious music festival. Apparently Rock the Green thought the same thing, as the area will play host to its return on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Published Sept. 15, 2016
Oscar winner John Ridley, "Arrested Development" star Mae Whitman and "Silicon Valley" star Martin Starr are just a few of the many filmmakers, film subjects and performers heading to the Milwaukee Film Festival starting next Thursday.
Published Sept. 14, 2016
The Green Bay Packers will have to wear a Color Rush uniform during their Thursday night spat with the Chicago Bears on Oct. 20. Thankfully, the revealed jersey is nowhere near the brightly colored nightmare it could've been.
Published Sept. 14, 2016
Good news, Brewers fans. Your suffering through this difficult - though not completely catastrophic - rebuilding season is coming to a grateful close, and shining as a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel is next year's schedule, released today.
Published Sept. 14, 2016
There's no denying the impact of "Avatar" and its ability to tell a universal story in a revolutionary way years ago. Now, it's up to Cirque du Soleil to bring that immersive world and universal message from the screen to the stage with "Toruk - The First Flight."
Published Sept. 13, 2016
It's no wonder Hollywood would want to adapt the Miracle on the Hudson River into a movie. But while director Clint Eastwood works the landing to the best his late-career abilities, it's the rest of the movie around the crash that proves catastrophic for "Sully,"
Published Sept. 12, 2016
This summer sucked. But this glorious behind-the-scenes YouTube clip of the pre-CG stonework in last year's insta-classic "Mad Max: Fury Road" almost manages to make up for the last three to four months. Almost.