Director: Wayne Blair.
Cast: Deborah Mailman, Chris O'Dowd, Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, Shari Sebbens.
FITTINGLY for a movie featuring lots of great soul music, The Sapphires is filled with soul and sings from the heart.
Based on the stage play of the same name, it's another strong Australian film that, like Red Dog, deserves a big audience here and overseas.
And similarly to Red Dog, The Sapphires is far from perfect, but the movie's friendliness, accessibility and sense of humour make some of its many mistakes forgiveable while reaching a wide target audience.
Springing from a true story, it's the fascinating tale of four Aboriginal girls - Gail (Mailman), Julie (Mauboy), Kay (Sebbens) and Cynthia (Tapsell) - who were selected to perform for the troops in Vietnam.
Assisted by their drunken Irish manager Dave Lovelace (O'Dowd), the girls must deal with their own issues of identity and heritage amid the new and frightening world of a war zone.
As mentioned, the film is far from perfect. A constant criticism of Aussie films is the underdone nature of the screenplays, and it feels like The Sapphires is a couple of rewrites away from being something really amazing.
Things happen too quickly (the girls have trouble getting into town from their home, yet arrive in Melbourne for their audition seemingly instantly), potential character developments are ignored (Julie leaves a child at home), issues spring out of nowhere (Cynthia is "on drugs and drunk" despite the film never showing her getting stoned or drunk), and some lines are absolute clunkers.
There are also some dubious performances, mainly from Tapsell, but thankfully most of the stodgy acting is limited to side roles.
The positives are many, with O'Dowd, who was so good in Bridesmaids, and Mailman putting in stellar turns. In fact, O'Dowd not only gets all the best lines and delivers them with comic timing, he even manages to make some of the bad lines and bad ideas palatable.
The relationship between O'Dowd's washed-up manager and Mailman's headstrong Gail is also one of the best aspects of the film, and far better than the interactions between the Sapphires themselves, which are drawn with broad strokes and never fully realised.
The soul music soundtrack is great and dominated by Mauboy's impressive voice, while the production design does a decent job of capturing the war zone and cities of Vietnam circa 1968.
There are some hefty issues simmering below the surface of The Sapphires, as demonstrated by a great early scene when Gail and Cynthia enter a talent competition in a white-filled pub in town, but the film is unsure what to do with them. The stolen generation, identifying as Aboriginal, and the death of Martin Luther King Jr are touched on with varying degrees of success.
Primarily, the film wants to be fun, and it is. Filled with big musical performances, lots of laughs, plenty of heart, and a tearjerking final act, The Sapphires sets out to tell an entertaining yarn without getting bogged down in the politics.