Friday, April 5, 2013

The Sapphires

A Really Good Show                                    
by Mark Dispenza

The latest film from the land down under is formulaic, predictable and loads of fun.

The Sapphires has a simple story line that's a proven crowd-pleaser.  It's shades of Disney's Cool Runnings infused with American Idol, or rather, Australian Idol in this case.  An alcoholic, disillusioned white guy stumbles upon four Aboriginal girls with big dreams and unrefined talent.  They convince him to become their manager and whip them into shape for the big time - the opportunity to join a USO tour of Vietnam.

It's easy to root for these underdogs.  Each character faces a unique personal challenge, and watching them grow and develop together is fun to watch.  In the end they overcome their differences, come closer together, and talent manager Dave Lovelace, played to perfection by Chris O'Dowd, finds that he learns a lot more from the girls than they will ever learn from him.

Chris O'Dowd and Deborah Mailman

The film is a nostalgic journey back to 1968, a year of Motown hits, global upheaval and a new era of civil rights for black people in both Australia and the United States.  The girls have mixed race parentage and they are survivors of a shameful period in Australian history, when mixed race children were often taken from their parents and forced to live a segregated lifestyle on special reserves or missions.

Fortunately the politics of the Vietnam War are not rehashed in this story, although the dangers and personal sacrifice experienced by the troops are much in evidence.  This tale is all about the girls and their personal journeys together.  Director Wayne Blair, an Aborigine himself, gets it right and he keeps true to the spirit of the Tony Briggs play on which the film is based.   The play was inspired by the true story of Briggs' mother, Laurel Robinson, and his aunt, Lois Peeler, who actually sang in a USO tour of Vietnam in 1968.

The Sapphires doesn't break new ground in filmmaking or story development, but sometimes it's fun to just sit back and enjoy the show.

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