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From a remote corner of New South Wales, four Aboriginal women with a fondness for country music went to Vietnam and entertained US troops. On the way they found themselves a manager in an itinerant, low-talent Irishman, swapped country for soul and turned into Australia's answer to The Supremes. For The Sapphires this was a life changing event, not only for the women but also a son (Tony Briggs) who turned his mother's experience into a stage play, and now a film directed by Wayne Blair who once performed as the hapless Jimmy. When you read 'based on a true story', this time you can believe it.

The Sapphires travels a well-worn musical route and doesn't offer too many surprises, not that Blair or Briggs intended to. Instead, this is a crowd-pleasing romp that sits on a mild bed of racial and social politics as befits the time. Like Hairspray with less spray, it's big on emotional warmth as the sisters do it for themselves with a little help from their self-proclaimed manager, the always affable Chris O'Dowd. Any concession to racial tension is a late-coming relative who had dropped her country cousins to live white in the big city. It hadn't gone down well, and now she wants back in.

While these scenes bring some depth to the story, it keeps its focus on cheery family life, singing lessons, dancing lessons, a brief acknowledgment of war's brutality before turning up music, romance and sexual liberation in a fast changing world. Think Dreamgirls by way of Good Morning Vietnam (but better). An electric cast led by Debra Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and the charismatic O'Dowd seldom miss a beat and are ably supported by newcomers Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell.

The Sapphires is a terrific toe-tapping rom-com that more than makes up for occasional lapses with a big, shiny blue heart. Put it on your must-see list and find out why The Sapphires received a ten minute ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks

The Sapphires (2012) on IMDb

Debra Mailman
Jessica Mauboy
Chris O'Dowd
Shari Sebbens

Wayne Blair

Tony Briggs


M / 105 minutes

August 9, 2012
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