BY LE LE MAC
Within the first 15 minutes of this movie, there were four women who just broke out into song in a bathroom. I thought to myself, “Oh no. I hate musicals, and I don’t understand why people start singing about mundane things when they can easily just say them.” I’m relieved to say that I didn’t have that worry for the rest of the movie, which was an enjoyable yet emotional journey.
The Sapphires is loosely based on a true story, the story of writer Tony Briggs’ mother and aunt who travelled to Vietnam to perform for the US troops in 1968. While the film featured entertaining soulful music, it also highlighted the social-political tension of the time: the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement marked by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and racial discrimination.
The movie starts off with the three Aboriginal sisters singing at a local pub in a small town near their village in Australia for a chance to win a singing contest. Unfortunately, they sang to a crowd of jeering White Australians, and lost the contest despite being the strongest singers. The contest’s Irish emcee, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) recognizes this injustice and believes in the group. This encounter sparks an unlikely friendship and relationship as Lovelace manages the girl group and tours with them in Vietnam.
The girl group was made complete with their biracial cousin, Kay (Shari Sebbens). Kay adds tension to the group as she lived in Melbourne, away from her village and passed as White for most of her youth. Kay’s character raises the question of what it means to be Black as she slips in and out of that role. Is being Black something you just are, or something you want to be?
It’s ironic that Lovelace, the pale Irishman, is the one who explains to The Sapphires that they should stop singing country music because it’s for people who struggle in life and then sit at home and whine about it. He further elaborates that they should be singing soul music because it’s music that comes from the gut, and embodies the deep emotions that come from life’s struggles and resilience–a symbol of what Aboriginal women have to go through living with discrimination.
The other ironic aspect of this film is that The Sapphires only experience struggle, heartbreak, discrimination and overall dissatisfaction when they are in Australia, but feel comfortable in their own skin and are widely recognized for their talent when they are in Vietnam–a place that held many displaced people during the war.
The irony conveyed in this film just goes to show that the concept of race is elusive and that the idea of race, thus racism, is arbitrary and socially created.
The actresses’ performances were well done, where Deborah Mailman believably portrayed herself as a tough mama bear, Miranda Tapsell pulls off playing the sensual and heartbroken Cynthia, Jessica Mauboy charismatically comes across as the ambitious one, and Shari Sebbens convincingly presents herself as a dynamic character. I have to say, Chris O’Dowd stole the show for me. He was hilarious without being too contrived, and a loveable character that you couldn’t wait to see in every scene.
This film was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a good mixture of entertainment with the humour and catchy music numbers, a serious movie with social-political references and an emotional journey.
Le Le Mac’s passion in film started when she would watch several Chinese films a week so that she could learn how to be more fluent in her mother tongue. Her passion then led her to study film and the Asian diaspora in Canada in graduate school. She is currently writing film reviews as a hobby. She is a big fan of Radiohead and tea. She has 40 different types of tea in her collection, and will often host tea parties. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband.