Movie Review: 'Sapphires' sings, dances through Vietnam War


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If you hear the phrase "entertainment for the troops in Vietnam" and think Bob Hope, Ann-Margret or the Golddiggers, the makers of "The Sapphires" have a movie for you.

It's set in 1968 and was inspired by the true story of an aboriginal girl group, shunned by whites in its native Australia, that heads for Vietnam to sing for American troops.

It follows the usual formula -- obscurity, bubbling excitement at the prospect of performance and travel, giddy happiness, love and flirtation, division and jealousy, tragedy real and feared, celebration and more music -- up to a point, and has fun at every step along the way.

"The Sapphires" opens in 1968 as three sisters, Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) enter a talent contest a local pub where they are far and away the best act. The young women from an aboriginal reserve lose the competition but pick up a manager in an R&B-loving Irish musician, Dave (Chris O'Dowd, the state patrolman in "Bridesmaids").


'The Sapphires'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens.

  • Rating:

    PG-13 for sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements and smoking.


Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens.

Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements and smoking.

He advises them to ditch the Merle Haggard tunes and try soul if they want to land a gig in Vietnam. They reunite with a fair-skinned cousin, Kay (Shari Sebbens), who had been removed from her family as a child, practice their dance moves and musical harmonies and head for the war zone.

There, they find appreciative audiences but increasing danger, from real explosions and those of the emotional kind.

"The Sapphires," directed by Wayne Blair and based on the Tony Briggs' play of the same name inspired by his mother, is not about the destination but the journey navigated by these characters.

It's a feel-good film that captures the spirit (and matching mini-dresses and go-go boots) of the late 1960s, the social upheaval and the escape soulful music can provide on both sides of the makeshift stage. Make sure you sit through the credits to see how the lives of the real Cummeragunja Songbirds took flight.

Opens today at the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon.

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First Published April 26, 2013 4:00 AM


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