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The Sapphires

The Sapphires

What She said:

She

For some odd reason, on Saturday the mood struck me to watch an obscure musical that was for the most part off the Hollywood grid.  Ok, I was just desperate to view a decent flick, and I had happened upon The Sapphires, an Australian film that chronicles an all-female Aborigine soul quartet that performs for soldiers during the Vietnam War.  I know, sounds dull, but the movie is actually sweet, funny, and filled with awesome musical numbers.

The Sapphires is based on a true story, although further research revealed to me that it is pretty loosely based.  The movie introduces us to Aborigine singers living on a government regulated reservation in Australia who yearn to make it to the big times.  They recruit their cousin as well, who is also Aborigine but has been raised as a white child out in the world.  This is an interesting point that comes up throughout the film.  Apparently, back in the mid-20th century, racism was still so bad in Australia, that Aborigines were relegated to life apart from the rest of society.  On top of that, the government would seize any child that looked lighter skinned, place them in foster care, and brainwash them into forgetting their background.  Kay is one of those children, but has fortunately kept some ties with her real family.  Unfortunately, Kay and the group matriarch, Gail, go at it a lot, as the way Kay looks is a point of contention between the two.

So, screw-up and alcoholic, Dave spots the group at a talent show and decides to sign on as their manager.  He works out an audition with the military to have them travel into the frontlines of combat to perform for soldiers in Vietnam.  Dave works to develop the act, from a folksy country western sound to more of a soul/do wop, which is far more appealing.  The girls shine, and are adored by the soldiers. However, the danger of war is always looming and the group faces serious hardships along their journey.

The movie has a lot of heart and charm.  The girls legitimately want to be stars, but have a rough journey to get there.  They’re just regular people, aside from being remarkably talented.  Chris O’Dowd is the only name you may possibly recognize in this film, and he plays Dave.  Dave is lovable and really funny, but is also sloppy and misguided.  His life seems to be pretty meaningless until the Sapphires come along and give him some direction.  Overall, the characters in this movie are rich and well-acted.  Each seems to grow during this relatively short 103 minute film.

The Sapphires

There are some pretty intense themes at play in the movie.  There’s the continuing racism of the time period, which the ladies encounter at various points throughout the film.  It’s something that, despite their success, they cannot seem to escape.  Also, there’s the constant danger of war.  The girls throw themselves into the frontlines for the sake of fame, and you have to ask the question, how far are you willing to go to make it big?  They definitely took a chance and things do get scary for them. 

Not to worry, The Sapphires is not as serious and gloomy as I make it sound.  It’s actually quite funny at times and the musical sequences are spirited and fun.  I admit I danced in my seat a little.  That said, I have a definite soft spot for Motown-style music.  For you dudes out there, don’t worry too much, this is not a musical in the sense of The Sound of Music or anything.  It’s not too cheesy.  The ladies just do a lot of singing and it’s featured.  I know some people hear the word “musical” and run for the hills.  Don’t let that be a turn-off to this movie. 

The Sapphires is a satisfying film that brings with it a pleasing amount of humor and surprising depth in its characters and themes.

Thumbs up

 

What He said:

He

Racism has always baffled me. I never understood how a person sees someone who doesn’t look like them and their brain tells them, “I don’t like that.” It’s so far beyond stupid that I feel like saying its stupid doesn’t even begin to describe it. I guess we can be a pretty stupid species sometimes and and that’s why we do stupid things.

I didn’t know this, but apparently – in addition to putting Aboriginal people on reservations – the Australian government thought it was appropriate to take light skinned Aboriginal children away from their families so they could be raises in a “proper” environment. The stupidity behind this logic is mind-blowing. So it’s not the Australian government disliked Aboriginals, they disliked the dark skinned ones. Yeah ok, because that makes sense.

Race is the subject of this story about three singing sisters and their cousin who desire to make it big as entertainers. Julie (Jessica Mauboy) is the youngest, but had the strongest voice. Cynthia (Tapsell) is the wild one. I wouldn’t say she doesn’t enjoy singing, but it’s debatable whether it’s her top priority. She seems to enjoy the spotlight and special treatment that with being a performer. Gail (Deobrah Mailman) is the oldest sister and leader of the group. She’s also the one who butts heads their cousin Kay the most. You see, Kay (Sherri Sebbens) is one of the white Aborigines and was taken away from the family a  young age. She was taught to “act white” and that her darker skinned friends and family were of a lower class than she. It’s not really her fault, but Gail holds that against her and resents her quite a bit.

The Sapphires

That’s what I thought worked  really well with the movie. It showed that racism knows no bounds. Racism can come from people of all backgrounds. It isn’t limited to the majority or one kind of race. It can come from any race, gender, or other cultural background.

So anyway, the girls are trying to make something of themselves. They want to use their talent leave their small town and see the world. Enter Dave, a failed musician. Dave (Chris O’Dowd) is an Irish guy who somehow ended up in Australia, appears to live in his car, and drinks like a fish. He gets a glimpse of the girls at a local (I’m talking real hole in the wall type place) venue and decides that he has to be their manager.

It just so happens the U.S. military is looking for new acts to perform for the troops. Dave gets them an audition and before they know it, they are headed to Vietnam.

I had never heard of this movie before, but the premise sounded interesting enough, so I was willing to give it a chance. I’m glad I did. The movie is funny, heartwarming, and covers some serious issues too. The production value was a little low during the war scenes, but that can be forgiven, being it isn’t a war movie. Aside from that, this was an entertaining little movie.

Prognosis: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on September 1, 2013.

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