‘The Sapphires,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


The darling of the Australian Academy Awards and a hit on the festival circuit, “The Sapphires” is that pure treat: an aggressively entertaining movie about the struggle, uplift, romance and joy of music.

Based on a true story, it touches on the deep-seated racism in Australia that kept its Aboriginal population as second-class citizens well into the 1970s. But its central characters, three sisters and one of their cousins, use their talent to break out and rise above in a most unlikely way.

The McCrae sisters – Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) – live in a small town in the boondocks, where they’ve been singing together since they were children. Two of them have romantic problems: Julie has a baby but no husband, while Cynthia’s fiancé stood her up at the altar.

As the story begins in 1968, they meet the seeming laggard Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), who is running the weekly talent show at a local bar. Cynthia and Gail enter the contest, telling Julie she’s not old enough to get into a bar. She finds her own way to town and pushes her way on to the stage, revealing a voice that is the best of the three, as they sing a Merle Haggard tune.

Dave, a ne’er-do-well with a deep love of soul music, spots their talent, though he finds himself flummoxed by their feisty nature – particularly the dominant Gail, the oldest. He convinces them to try their hand at the music of Stax and Motown – and, practically on a dare, accompanies them (both as manager and pianist) to an audition for acts to entertain the troops in Vietnam.

This review continues on my website.

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