Based on the true story of screenwriter Tony Briggs’s family, and adapted from the 2004 stage production, about an Aboriginal girl band, The Sapphires is set in 1968 Australia, when racism was prevalent, causing the girls talent to go unnoticed. That is until they meet Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids), a local Irishman who happens to play piano accompaniment at one of the venues where the girls perform. O’Dowd is hilarious and loveable as the eccentric Lovelace, and his performance is a highlight of the film through comic relief and O’Dowd’s undeniable charm.
Dave sees something in the girls that the town refuses to notice due to the racism that exists within the community. Dave quickly appoints himself their manager, and before they know it they are heading off to Vietnam to play for the US troops. It’s a story that would be hard to believe, were it not true, and that aspect of the film will likely result in its attraction to a mass audience.
That being said the facts behind the story, though fascinating, can’t be expected to hold the film all on its own, and in some respects the narrative that’s been created here leaves a bit more to be desired. The characters of the four girls, Gail (Deborah Mailman, who starred in the stage version as well), Julie (Jessica Mauboy, Australian Idol), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and Kay (Shari Sebbens), while charming, could have had more depth added to them.
An interesting side note, the three actresses (Mauboy, Tapsell and Sebbens) who were not in the original stage production, all came from the same hometown, Darwin, Australia. This is significant considering the crew scoured the continent holding auditions for the roles. Again, it’s likely that the non-fiction elements of this film will largely contribute to its appeal.
The music in the film is also a positive enticement, and the soundtrack includes several familiar throwbacks such as ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine,’ ‘I’ll Take You There,’ and ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),’ and the performances of these songs within the film do not disappoint, showcasing the broad talent, in acting, dancing and singing, of these four young actresses. Anyone nostalgic for the days of film when these qualities were a given as opposed to a rarity will delight in these moments within the film.