Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires is quite possibly the least original movie you’ll see this summer — and one of the most enjoyable. You know those blockbusters where “stuff blows up real neat” that people encourage you to “just turn off your brain” and enjoy? Well, this is sort of the same thing for those of us who really don’t care if stuff blows up “real neat.” The Sapphires is an unassuming, quietly amusing, sweetly pleasant movie in which a 1960s Aborigine all-girl group sings “real neat.” Oh, it has its more serious side, which touches on racial issues, but the basic interest here lies in the creation of a feel-good crowd-pleaser about the title group’s rise from obscurity in an Australian backwater to brief fame entertaining troops in Vietnam. Little may happen that surprises you and certainly nothing happens that will change your view of cinema, but nearly everything — from the well-timed comedy to the nicely observed interpersonal relationships, and especially to the girls belting out those Motown songs — will delight you.
Though grounded in fact — the screenplay (based on his play) was co-written by Tony Briggs, whose mother was a member of the real group — the movie is basically a standard show-biz tale with a fresh spin offered by the setting and the characters. The girls are three sisters (Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy) who are “discovered” by low-rent, infrequently sober Irish promoter Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd, best known to movie audiences for Bridesmaids and Pirate Radio) after he hears them sing a Merle Haggard song at a talent competition. Though he hates country music, he recognizes their talent — and deplores the racism that kept them from winning — so he opts to turn them into the Aboriginal Supremes. That’s pretty much it, except for a few embellishments, such as incorporating their estranged light-skinned cousin Kay (Shari Stebbins) — who had been “relocated” by the government to be raised by white folks—into the act.
It’s all pretty simple. Everything happens too easily — despite Dave’s constant clashes with Gail (Deborah Mailman), the group’s leader — and it’s extremely manipulative of the audience. However, it’s a benign — even pleasant — kind of manipulation. Some may object to the film giving short shrift to the racial aspects, not to mention painting the Vietnam War in broad strokes. But those aspects are not really the film’s purpose. It’s fun and effective. The characters and performances are endlessly appealling. Plus, The Sapphires sound terrific. Its aims may be modest, but its sheer entertainment value certainly isn’t. Rated PG-13 for sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements and smoking.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas