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 July 24, 2017
Just when you thought it was another nice episode of "Game of Thrones," in a furious explosion of fire, water and blood, Sunday's episode flipped the table over - at least for Daenerys and Tyrion. Here's our recap.
Published July 21, 2017
The forecast will call for some "November Rain" this fall, as Milwaukee welcomes iconic '80s/'90s hard rock band Guns N' Roses and its "Not In This Lifetime" tour to the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Published July 20, 2017
On Saturday, Sept. 2, The Lights Fest tour will float its way to the Dodge County Fairgrounds in Beaver Dam, gathering people to relax outdoors with food, fun and the collective launch of personalized paper sky lanterns into the night sky.
Published July 20, 2017
This morning, Rock the Green, the one-day sustainability festival headed to Walker's Point on Saturday, Sept. 9, announced the rest of its lineup, featuring an impressive combination of big national names and beloved local acts.
Published July 19, 2017
Still wringing out your clothes from the Summerfest Day 1 downpour? The poppy R&B trio SHAED - who performed that night at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard - feels your pain. But that didn't scare the group off from returning Thursday night at The Rave.
Published July 19, 2017
Because there is still joy in this world, the world's biggest bounce house - or bouncy castle, or boingalow, or whatever term you prefer - is bounding its way over to Milwaukee this summer.
Published July 18, 2017
They say there's no such thing as bad press, but after the past season of controversy - whether it's Lee's racism, the "Bachelor in Paradise" debacle or Dean's hometown date last night - I have to wonder if it's all been worth it for ABC.
Published July 17, 2017
Before he hits the Festa stage, I asked the crooner about his love of the old legends, his TV appearances then - on "American Idol" and "AGT" - and now, and how doomed his diet will be on his first visit to America's Dairyland.
Published July 17, 2017
Well, you can't say season seven of "Game of Thrones" got off to a slow start, as the premiere episode - "Dragonstone" - opened with a great Arya sequence before putting its many pieces back on the board.
Published July 13, 2017
There's a One Direction-shaped hole in the world of pop music right now, and ABC producers thinks they're the ones to help fill it - possibly with the help of a young Shorewood singer.