The Sapphires (DVD)

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The Sapphires (DVD)

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Review of "The Sapphires (DVD)"

published 26/02/2014 | afy9mab
Member since : 11/07/2000
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All of my DVD reviews are film only, so do not include pricing information. If you have time, please read and rate my Batman V Superman review.
Super
Pro It's funny, and has likeable characters and great musical performances.
Cons Its stage origins sometimes show through and the story is slight.
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"Heart and Soul"

It is 1968 and talented sisters Gail, Cynthia and Julie are singing country and western covers in a local talent show when they are spotted by struggling musician Dave Lovelace. He moulds them into soul group The Sapphires, and, along with their estranged cousin Kay, he books them a tour of Vietnam to entertain the American troops. But in spite of escaping the stifling backwater they grew up in, the four Australian Aboriginal girls find that life on the road is far from plain sailing.

I’m not a huge fan of musicals. I hate it when the narrative grinds to a halt for three minutes while the characters sing about how they are feeling, when the ideas could be expressed just as easily through three lines of dialogue. However, I have more tolerance for the genre when the characters are singers or band members, as they at least have a legitimate reason for bursting into song every so often. TV director Wayne Blair’s feature debut thankfully falls into the latter category. Visually it isn’t terribly adventurous. The director shoots on decent quality film, with a broad palette. He places the film in an historical context with montages of grainy black and white footage of the civil rights movement and newsreel footage of the Vietnam War and flashes of combat. There are rehearsal and travel montages that show the group bonding and learning how to work as a team. The narrative doesn’t have any great depth but there are a handful of diverting subplots and whenever the pacing begins to flag, the director busts out another soul hit. The musical numbers are staged simply and come across more as a performance by a band than a Broadway-style extravaganza. It is the quality of the singing that is striking rather than the staging. The stage origins of the production are obvious in places – it’s the timing of certain events and the juxtaposition of some scenes that give the game away. There are a few abrupt shifts in tone, caused by a determined effort to keep things upbeat. Even though we see soldiers who have had their legs cut off, the focus is more on the main protagonists’ reactions to it, which diminishes some of the issues we see and reduces the production’s emotional depth. Consequently, the idea that a smile and a song can solve almost every problem feels a little glib. The character development is a little sketchy and plays out along predictable lines. Everyone has their own revelation and moment to shine, which makes matters appear a trifle contrived on occasion. However, the performances are strong across the board, so the characters are warm, likeable and funny, if not fully three-dimensional. The comedy works particularly well because both the cast and the director have effective but relaxed comic timing, so it never feels as though anyone is begging for laughs. The pacing is a little slack here and there. As a result the film could probably lose about ten minutes of its hundred-and-three minute running-rime without impacting on too seriously on the narrative.

The screenplay by Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson is adapted from Briggs’ stage play of the same name, which is based on his mother’s experiences in the real-life Sapphires. In many respects it is a pretty run-of-the-mill musical. It is filled with feisty, spiky girls who won’t let anyone tell them what to do. They have an uphill struggle for acceptance. There are a few romantic interludes and they tend to solve all of their problems through song. But unlike most musicals, this one has a political point to make. It confronts race issues from the period head-on. The girls’ first performance at an all-white club is introduced with the line “Just so’s you know, you’re all standing on blackfella country!” and they remain just as confrontational throughout. There are also references to the Australian government’s despicable practice of separating aboriginal children from their families and raising them in white homes. Some of the nods to the American Civil Rights movement are perhaps a little clunky and show the story’s stage origins sometimes show through. Nevertheless, the musical numbers don’t feel shoehorned in because they are examples of popular tracks from the time, which are chosen more because they are real toe-tappers than for anything they can tell us about the emotional states of the singers. There are also plenty of moments of comedy stemming from situations or turns of phrases.

The characterisation is not particularly original. Dave Lovelace is the musician down on his luck who knows a good thing when he sees it and moulds the sisters and their cousin into a credible girl group. He is affable, sarcastic and likeable. Although he bickers with Gail from the off, you can tell where their relationship is going. Gail is the mouthy self-elected leader of the group whose frequently abrasive personality is apt to get her into trouble. Cynthia is sharp-tongued and promiscuous and prone to being a loose cannon. Youngest sister Julie is a talented and ambitious singer who sees the group as her only way out of the racist backwater she hails from. Kay is the estranged cousin who has to make up for treating her family so badly after being forcibly separated from them. She is perhaps the least well-developed of all the main characters as she exists to illustrate a point about Australian race relations. The other members of the girls’ family are an entertaining bunch, who bring a great deal of humour to the film. The dialogue is sparky and often very funny. I must admit to having overused the phrase “That’s a sack of dick!” a little in the few days as a result of having heard it in the production.

As Dave Lovelace, Chris O’Dowd takes a break from playing affable geeks and has a go at being cool. And it actually really suits him. He has lovely comic timing and a warm, believable dynamic with the members of the all-girl group. He gives the impression of being someone who talks a good game, without knowing if he can actually deliver. Deborah Mailman makes the mouthy Gail likeable in spite of her many foibles. Sure, she may be bossy and argumentative, but her heart is in the right place. So she comes across as a kind of grumpy mother hen type. It’s just a shame she doesn’t have more chemistry with O’Dowd. Jessica Mauboy, who plays Julie, the youngest of The Sapphires has a cracking voice that is well-suited to soul music. She is ambitious and frequently bolshie, though not quite as worldly as she’d like to think she is. Miranda Tapsell plays Cynthia as an outrageous and often very funny flirt, who is trying to make up for her past disappointments with meaningless flings. Shari Sebbens rounds out the group as Kaye, who is struggling to fit in with her estranged cousins.

The original music by Cezary Skubiszewski consists of a series of stylistically and thematically appropriate motifs that feature woodwinds, acoustic guitar and plucked strings for the girls’ childhood, tense strings for a flashback, sad electro-acoustic guitar and warm brass for a sentimental moment and twanging guitar and Hammond organ for a homecoming. But the score gets lost amongst spirited arrangements of soul classics such as “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “What a Man”, “I’ll Take You There”, “Land of One Thousand Dances” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”, with Jessica Mauboy proving her worth as lead singer. Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Coming”, “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and tracks by Jackie Wilson and The Emotions amongst others. I personally thought the music was one of the strongest elements of the production and I could happily listen to the soundtrack on its own.

I enjoyed “The Sapphires”. I found the direction competent and although the writing was slight, the storyline and subplots were entertaining. I thought the solid ensemble elevated the material somewhat and I really liked the soulful musical numbers. I felt it was an enjoyable and heartfelt tribute to the 1960s girl groups, who were the unsung heroines of the civil rights movement, sneaking black faces and voices into the racist mainstream in the guise of slickly produced pop music. The fact that the film is as funny and entertaining as it is, is simply the icing on the cake. If you’re a fan of soul music or musicals in general or you’re just after a feel-good movie, I’d definitely give it a whirl.

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Comments on this review

  • 80smusicreviewer published 02/03/2014
    Well reviewed. E.
  • Mildew82 published 28/02/2014
    This sounds fun - I quite like Chris O'Dowd so might give this one a go!
  • mumsymary published 27/02/2014
    good description
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Product Information : The Sapphires (DVD)

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Product Details

Sub Sub Genre: Soul

DVD Region: DVD

Production Year: 2012

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Actor(s) (Last name, First name): Chris O'Dowd

Title: T

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Wayne Blair

EAN: 5030305516819

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Listed on Ciao since: 25/02/2014