Now I saw this film once in Melbourne and once is Sydney which should give you some indication of just how special I think it is. The reason I saw it a second time is that I got word that the Australian Writers Guild were holding an event screening with the writers of the film at the Dendy cinema is Newtown which is 5 minutes walk from my house. After absolutely loving the film in Melbourne I couldn’t give up the chance to hear the writers speak about what I would have to say is my new favorite Australian film.
This film is everything Australian films traditionally aren’t, fun, uplifting, international while still keeping everything that is good about Australian film, like relevance to Australians and a sense of social responsibility. This film doesn’t preach, it doesn’t lecture, it just lets its audience have fun while telling a great story.
The Sapphires is based play of the same name by aboriginal play-write Tony Brigg’s. It is the true story of Brigg’s mother, sisters and cousin and their journey to be soul performers for the US troops in Vietnam. So straight off the bat we have Australia, USA and Vietnam. Isn’t is great for an Australian film to position itself in an international landscape. To see a film when Australians have an identity beyond the outback, the big smoke, the yuppies and the bogans is truly fantastic. Add to that a film where aboriginal culture contributes to an international world is even more special. I am sick of our films representing Australia as so cut off. Yes we are different, we have our own identity, yes we live on an island but we are not untouched by the outside world, we are in fact greatly influenced by it.
Another fantastic international influence in this film is Chris O’Dowd. He is a truly legendary ringer and doesn’t have a bad singing voice either. Every time the film seems to be deviating off into tried and true cheesy Australian comedy territory, Chris rescues the film with his incredible timing and lovable persona. He is funnier than he was in ‘The IT Crowd” and that’s saying something. At the screening the writers let us know that he was a difficult get for the film and the character of Dave Lovelace was actually rewritten according to his notes in order to get him to commit. He asked the writers to make Dave into more of a scoundrel and so they took a last scoundrel pass at the script and Dave as we know him was born. O’Dowd is also a big improviser according to the writers and that served the film excellently. They too obviously loved him and said that he elevated their writing in every scene.
He is a great antagonist/love interest for Deborah Mailman’s character and does an excellent job tempering the actress and the character’s more annoying qualities. Despite being slightly irritating in this role, Mailman’s emotional range is outstanding and she is a very empathetic heroine. Her relationship with O’Dowd is authentic and romantic without being too cheesy, which is quite a feat as the two aren’t exactly a typical Hollywood pairing. I really enjoyed her in this role and fell in love with her ‘Mama Bear soft side’ right along with Dave. The writers revealed that Mailman was not an easy cast for the film either and that she was by no means a shoe in, she auditioned 13 times for the role. I think she was a perfect choice.
Jessica Mauboy mostly sang in the film and didn’t need to have much acting range for the role which suited her perfectly. I know quite a few people that didn’t want to see it because of her and but I can assure you she is great in her part and her voice is magnificent. Meanwhile Miranda Tapsell is excellent as sexy Cynthia and Shari Sebbens is all sweetness and pain as Kay, the sister’s estranged cousin and a victim of the stolen generation.
The stolen generation subplot is beautifully done and made me cry but the darkness of the tale doesn’t over shadow the humor or the romance. The value of the story to educate and entertain is kept in perfect balance and the film does not force its audience to eat its vegetables. The humor of this film is both sweet and biting and the music is top notch.
The Sapphires worldwide distribution rights have been bought ‘The Weinstein Company’ and the film was a massive hit at the Cannes Film Festival. It also had the biggest opening weekend of any Australian film since “Tomorrow, When the War Began” in 2010. While this is great, the film had a budget of between 8-10 million so it really needs to rake in the cash here in Australia to do well. So please get out there and see it if you haven’t already. I really want this film to be a smash hit so we can make many more Australian films like it in the future.