Monday, April 8, 2013

Movie Review: "The Sapphires"

I don't know what it is about Australia—maybe it's something in the water, maybe it's just the overall beauty of the country—but I can count a number of Australian-made movies as some of my favorites, including Muriel's Wedding, Strictly Ballroom, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Not only are these movies well-made, but they're tremendously entertaining and full of heart. To that list, and many more, I'd add The Sapphires, a sweet, funny, and touching movie about music, family, relationships, independence, and overcoming your fears, set against the backdrop of the tumultuous late 1960s and the Vietnam War.

Feisty, protective Gail (Deborah Mailman) and her flighty sister, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) leave their Aboriginal mission in Australia to enter a singing competition. It's 1968, and in Australia, there is a great deal of prejudice toward Aborigines. Gail and Cynthia's younger sister, Julie (Jessica Mauboy) is determined to join them, but she is told by her mother she is too young, even though she is already a mother to a small child. But Julie knows her voice is what the girls need to succeed, so she runs away from home to join them. And while the trio is clearly the most talented group in the competition, they are prevented from winning and told to leave the club.

The day isn't a total loss, though, as the girls meet Dave Lovelace (Bridesmaids' Chris O'Dowd), a bumbling musician and promoter with a bit of a drinking problem. They convince Dave to help them secure an audition to perform for the Marines in Vietnam, and he promises to teach them what they need to succeed—a mastery of soul music and strong performing skills. Along the way, the trio reunites with their long-lost cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who, like many fair-skinned Aborigine children, was taken from the mission by the government when she was younger and placed with a white family.

Vietnam is a significant departure for the girls, although they quickly take to performing and the adulation of the crowds (not to mention the soldiers). Along the way, they deal with jealousy, Gail's need to control everything around her, some unresolved feelings of resentment and guilt between Kay and Gail, and the growing attraction between Dave and Gail. And when the enemy attacks the base where The Sapphires are performing, tragedy strikes, and the girls realize that everything else isn't nearly as important as their love for one another.

The plot may be a little predictable and a little hokey at times, but the characters' personalities, the performances (particularly O'Dowd, Mailman, and Mauboy), and the musical numbers elevate the movie to an utterly charming, uproariously funny, and moving experience. And this is a true story; the script is co-written by the son of one of the women in the group.

If you're looking for a wonderfully fun and heartwarming movie that will totally captivate you, I hope you'll be able to catch The Sapphires at a theater in your area. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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