Movie Review: The Sapphires
Pros:The people involved seem very sincere in trying to make a good film. However, they very sincerely fail.
Cons:Every line of dialogue, every character, every tired joke, every event, every ounce.
Four Aboriginal girls form a Supremes-type soul group and head to Vietnam to entertain the troops. Abandon hope here.
It takes a rare talent to take the challenging topics of race and war and demean them so much with lowest common denominator humour and flat, mistreated characters.
In The Sapphires, someone has taken it upon themselves to take true-to-life source material, and with it a responsibility to do justice to the story of real women, their background as young Aboriginal girls in 1960s Australia and their time spent in Vietnam as entertainers for the troops, and produce a mess of cliché, stereotypes, lazy storytelling and ignorance.
We open with lines and lines of exposition and rush to the story, for want of a better word. The premise of the movie is jack-hammered in as Chris O’Dowd finds he is suddenly compelled to manage a quartet of inexperienced girls, rehearse them via a musical montage and win them the chance of a lifetime in wartorn Vietnam.
The Sapphires are placed in the middle of a war and have nothing more to do than faff around the place looking for men and hamming it up like Twink in one of her post-panto era plays. The seriousness of the situation (1968 saw a huge escalation in the conflict in Vietnam) is pitifully demonstrated by having the girls drive through Saigon as a hip, full-of-life ’60s city and then turn a corner to find bodies maimed amidst shelled buildings. The treatment of the war is a farce – the film is an adaptation of an Australian musical but it seems here that locals came together to put on an under-rehearsed community play and wrapped themselves in bandages soaked in red ink to portray injured soldiers. There is no end to how inexplicable the sequences in Vietnam are.
Chris O’Dowd plays a drunk Irish guy. Clearly a new national hero in the making. He has a sense of humour that wasn’t invented until Kevin Williamson wrote Scream and his character is an out-of-time, flip-flopping, frustrating ball of every Irish character you’ve ever cringed at. The quartet of girls around him all seem like they could be fine actresses but their characters are little beyond drivel. Deborah Mailman is a proven actress, maybe recognisable to you from Australian TV show The Secret Life of Us, and tackles the most serious themes of the film; however, the horrors of the treatment of Aborigines and her sense of duty to her family is completely lost to the soap opera form the film takes. Her character and O’Dowd’s Dave form the focal point of the high drama of the third act and in the pointless, shameless plot turns we see the entire evolution of the media regress so that there could be truly no one surprised if Brendan O’Carroll turned up in drag for the musical medley at the end.
There isn’t a single redeeming moment in The Sapphires and even in ending it adds insult. The screen fades to black and we have text to tell us the women that formed the basis for this movie became leaders and spokespersons within their communities. These women? Really? They may have consented to seeing their story put on celluloid but there is no justice done in this loaded-with-potential setup.