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Film Review: The Sapphires

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The SapphiresIn its 56th year, the BFI London Film Festival is well underway and by its finish, it will have screened 225 features, including 12 World, 12 International and 35 European Premieres. Day five of the festival saw the UK Premiere of The Sapphires, starring Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) and TNS went along to walk the red – well, blue – carpet.

Perhaps most well-known for his role as the police officer in the hit comedy Bridesmaids, Chris O'Dowd joins a largely Australian cast, in a film which is based on the true story of four Aboriginal women who formed a soul group and headed out to 1960's Vietnam to entertain the American troops stationed there. The Sapphires (based on a play of the same name) is a comedy/drama with plenty of musical numbers thrown in for good measure and features some really energetic performances from its cast.

O'Dowd as the Sapphires' manager gives a great performance and achieves an endearing balance between comedic charm and manic energy. His fantastic delivery of lines made me laugh out loud and his enthusiasm lifted scenes and dialogue which would otherwise have felt flat and un-engaging.

The sisters (played by Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) all approached their roles with a similar level of liveliness, although at times there seemed to be a lack of believable chemistry within the group. This was a serious issue as the film's themes of family and triumphing against a world which doesn't want to see you succeed, should have been strengthened by vivacious group dynamics, rather than being undermined by them.

In many interviews, the cast and director (Wayne Blair) have emphasised the film's political nature and its comments on race and racism in Australia. In many ways, this agenda seemed to have been addressed on a far too superficial level and the film's message may have been somewhat lost.

Early on in the film, there is a scene where two of the sisters try to flag down a cab to get into town and it drives straight past them. “What's his problem?!”, exclaims Cynthia.“It's because we're black, stupid” replies Gail. Cynthia hits back with the line “No, it's 'cos you're ugly”. Yes, the line is funny and yes, a film following an Australian soul group belting out hits such as I Heard It Through the Grapevine and Soul Man is hardly going to be the most profound comment on Australian race-relations, but with its agenda so explicitly set-up, it felt a bit too superficial.

The musical numbers were certainly toe-tapping and the singing (much of which was done by the cast themselves) felt very authentic. As a comedy/musical, The Sapphires works well and makes for entertaining viewing. O'Dowd produces a sterling performance and the rest of the cast shine individually, although poor ensemble dynamics aren't helped by a script which is, at times, uneven.

More fundamentally, there is a problem with how it approaches its politics and it could have been more emotionally-charged and driven. But, perhaps, this isn't the point and The Sapphires should be enjoyed for what it is: good-natured fun.

Supported by Nintendo, the premiere was trailed by a short film which won Nintendo's 'A Vision in 3D' competition. The competition was won by Nicholas Pratt (a student at London's SOAS) who had his 3D animated film Summer in the City screened for the first time.

The Sapphires is released nationwide on 7th November.




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