IT must be pretty good to be Chris O’Dowd right about now.
He starred in one of last year’s most popular comedies (Bridesmaids), had a hit on Sky TV (Moone Boy) and recently married an impossibly good looking woman (Dawn Porter).
For his next trick, O’Dowd will elevate an Australian period comedy to the point of genuinely endearing.
Of course, O’Dowd isn’t the only good thing about
The Sapphires, but he is definitely the best thing.
Based on the 2004 play of the same name, The Sapphires tells the semi-true story of an Aboriginal all-girl group who travel to Vietnam in 1968.
Vietnam in 1968 is of course, a war zone and the girls are committed to perform for the US troops.
No mention is made of the Australian military, which allows the girls to be used as a parallel with the Civil Rights movement back in the States.
Of course, the 60’s was a time of civil rights movements across the world and by 1968, the Aboriginal people in Australia had endured over a decade of near slavery and displacement.
Normally, films that tackle the civil rights era either dip their toes in the subject or have white people as the heroes (Mississippi Burning, The Help etc.)
In The Sapphires, O’Dowd’s Dave Lovelace is clueless to the plight of Australia’s indigenous people as well as being just plain clueless.
When his dopey, soul-obsessed manager meets three singing sisters, all of their worlds are changed, as they head to Vietnam.
The introduction of the girl’s cousin Kay, whose running conflict with eldest sister Gail sets the context for much of the racial discussion, is a clever touch.
The girls roles are clearly defined, which helps the film settle into a comfortable rhythm.
Gail, played by Deborah Mailman, is the rock of the family and her narky running battle with Dave gives the film some of its best interactions.
Miranda Tapsell’s Cynthia is man and fame hungry, Shari Sebbens Kay is the good-looking one and Jessica Mauboy’s Julie is the lead singer.
The youngest of the girls, Julie has a child back home and is desperate to become famous to provide a better life for her son.
All told, the characters conform to handy archetypes, but are played with a depth and warmth that really papers over that, which is a recurring theme throughout the film.
O’Dowd’s trademark charm is utilised time and again to rescue the film from some particularly clunky dialogue and the musical interludes are leaned on to get the film to its 103 minute running time.
That is not to say, however that the film is reliable just on those two things.
The acting throughout is strong and Mailman puts in a stellar performance and the bravery and likeability is enough to cover the film’s flaws.
With O’Dowd on top form playing almost against type, this is a film that for the most part sparkles.