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 – or at least tap your feet or sway a bit if you’re in public.
The Australian music dramedy "The Sapphires" is that sensation in film form. I’m won’t say that I was singing and bopping in my seat as the movie went along (and that’s the story I’m sticking with), but I will say that by the midway point, director Wayne Blair’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 ’60s. Gail (Mailman) is the group’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 –and I should add fictional – manager Dave Lovelace (Chris O’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 – many actual covers by Mauboy, a one-time runner-up on Australia’s "American Idol" – and their talents do the rest, taking them all the way to Vietnam, where they perform for troops.
Of course, there’s drama along the way. Dave’s laid-back lifestyle and ideas conflict with Gail’s strong personality and concern for her sisters, the relationship between Kay and Gail is still damaged and oh yeah, there’s a war going on all around them.
The script, written by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs (the son of one the actual Sapphires) doesn’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 – complete with fisticuffs – 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. They’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 audience’s hearts.
It’s a smart move considering the cast at Blair’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 there’s O’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 – the Vietnam War, racism in Australia – "The Sapphires" never tries to do more or be more than it wants. Blair doesn’t mean to get too deep or challenging. He aims to please, and frankly, it’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. 2, 2014
Like a distracted person into a glass door, we've smashed face-first into the desolate cinematic wasteland also known as early fall. The summer blockbuster season - a surprisingly strong one in terms of quality, if not box office - is officially dead, leaving audiences with a rather meager selection of dire options for the next several weeks. Case in point: "The November Man."
Published Sept. 1, 2014
Butch Vig has a lot on his plate. He just finished wrapping up a new Foo Fighters album, and he's heading back into the studio to start recording a new Garbage album. However, tucked away in that packed schedule is just enough time to head back to Milwaukee for the upcoming Yellow Phone Music Conference.
Published Aug. 31, 2014
That's it. I've had it. I've had enough. Game over, man, game over. Sure, there was a time when found footage was a fun novelty, back in the original days of "Cloverfield" and the first couple of "Paranormal Activity" films. But now, movies like "As Above, So Below" just show what a waste the gimmick truly is.
Published Aug. 29, 2014
The dynamic duo is returning to its home away from home next weekend, with a show on Friday, Sept. 5 at The Pabst Theater (moved from its original location at the Cactus Club after it sold out). And they're coming back with gallons of deservedly good press, an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" and the deafening buzz of a band obviously on the rise.
Published Aug. 29, 2014
"The Doyle & Debbie Show," the season opener for the Milwaukee Rep, is making history. "Is this the first time a toilet's been on the Stackner stage? Probably," said JC Clementz, the show's director. The prop potty, however, nicely sets the tone for "The Doyle & Debbie Show," a goofy Christopher Guest-esque parody about a washed-up country duo.
Published Aug. 28, 2014
Late Wednesday afternoon, representatives from MillerCoors, Milwaukee County Parks, UWM's School of Freshwater Sciences and Milwaukee County held a press conference, announcing new initiatives, and namely a new $500,000 contribution from MillerCoors, to clean up South Shore Park.
Published Aug. 27, 2014
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" - Robert Rodriguez's hyper-stylized and hyper-violent hyper-noir - has many, many sins of its own to contemplate and consider, the most glaring of which perhaps being a severe case of tardiness. Then again, even if it was perfectly on time, "A Dame to Kill For" would still feel just as relentlessly grim, one-note and pointless.
Published Aug. 26, 2014
For about half of the year, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band calls its New Orleans namesake home, playing bright brassy jazz to the residents of the Big Easy. For the other half of the year, however, the legendary jazz band brings that cajun flavor and music across the country to cities needing a little extra kick.
Published Aug. 25, 2014
Yes, the expected dopey melodrama finds its way into "If I Stay," but it mostly plays second fiddle to an above average relationship drama, one with seemingly real characters (well, real for a teen romance) coping with seemingly real issues and problems. I didn't mind having to spend time with these dreamy young people, which is a lot more than I can say about anything Nicholas Sparks has done lately.
Published Aug. 23, 2014
There is good news for guitarist/vocalist Andrew Foys and Milwaukee music fans who landed squarely on "hated it" when it came to his band's previous name, Elusive Parallelograms: the name has run its course. The multi-genre spanning psychedelic rock band recently underwent a "reboot," kicking the old moniker to the curb and reintroducing themselves as Tapebenders - complete with an upcoming new album.