The year is 1968. Dave Lovelace is an English (Chris O’Dowd) piano player with a love for Otis Redding and booze. While hosting a talent show in remote Australia hosting he discovers three sisters, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsekll), Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), with amazing voices but a tired country and western style repertoire. Adding cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) as background singer and dance captain, he molds them into the Australian Supremes and gets them their first gigs—in Vietnam singing for the troops.
“The Sapphires” is a feel good movie that succeeds despite the cliché story. It’s based—one imagines very loosely based—on a true story, but make no mistake, this is a Hollywood-ized (filtered through an Australian sensibility) version of the tale.
Authenticity aside, it’s the performances and the music that make “The Sapphires” worth a look. We first noticed O’Dowd on this side of the Atlantic as the charming love interest in “Bridesmaids.” He brings it again in “The Sapphires,” mixing roguish appeal with bang on comic timing.
He’s complimented by the women who each distinguish themselves, even though most aren’t given much to do except sing and dance. As the fiery Gail Deborah Mailman is the standout.
“The Sapphires” is at its best when it embraces its light and fluffy soul. Romances swirl, as do glittery costumes. That’s the good stuff. Less convincing is the examination of race and discrimination. We hear them called “bloody monkeys” by a bigot at the talent show, and there is subplot about Kay’s “stolen” childhood but it feels tacked onto the Motown groove that propels much of the action.
“The Sapphires” is a slight, but entertaining take on the effect of music to change people’s lives.