A real gem of a movie: Despite a few duff notes, Chris O'Dowd's film about Sixties soul singers will make your heart sing
08:20 GMT, 9 November 2012
THE SAPPHIRES (PG)
Verdict: Feel-good frolic
Based on a true story, The Sapphires is curiously reminiscent of an old one, and will strike a pleasurable chord with anyone who enjoyed The Commitments.
Like Alan Parker’s 1991 hit, it tells the tale of enthusiastic amateurs learning to love soul music. This time, it’s a 1968 Australian aboriginal girl-group who are making it big — which in their case means travelling to Vietnam to entertain the troops.
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Bumpy ride: Chris O'Dowd plays The Sapphires' drunken manager
Along the way they encounter most of the things you’d expect — racism, love and rivalry between group members — before confronting the darker realities of warfare.
The girls are managed, for better and worse, by Dave (Chris O’Dowd), a shambolic Irish musician who has spotted their talent but doesn’t have much idea what to do with it.
He also has an unfortunate predilection for booze, which scuppered his own career and may be about to threaten theirs.
O’Dowd excels in this pivotal role, capturing Dave’s charm and unreliability. The story of his burgeoning relationship with the bossiest girl in the group (Deb Mailman) runs strictly according to Hollywood formula — but it’s so beautifully acted by both parties that it’s surprisingly affecting.
Shaking some moves: The Sapphires travel to Vietnam to entertain the troops in the upbeat film
The cover versions of soul classics are great, too. Lead singer Jessica Mauboy has such a good set of pipes it’s a mystery why she isn’t better known.
However, it isn’t all good news. The comedy is broad and unsophisticated. The storyline is predictable, and doesn’t delve deep into the racial issues it raises. There’s nothing innovative about Wayne Blair’s direction or Tony Briggs’s script, which is based on his own stage play.
But if you’re in the mood for a sentimental feel-good movie with affection for its music and characters, The Sapphires offers solid entertainment. As Aretha Franklin would say: Respect.
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