The Sapphires

You will be singing the praises of this wonderful experience on multiple levels. See it with a group of strangers in the theater and count your cinematic blessings.

The SapphiresIf you loved last year’s Pitch Perfect, you will embrace The Sapphires. Put another way, imagine that Pitch Perfect took place in 1968 with the a capella girls trying to qualify to sing on a South Vietnam tour, and you get the idea.

On top of that, The Sapphires takes place in Australia at a time when there was still blatant discrimination against the Aboriginal community. As previously seen in the brilliant Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), Australia had a hideous discrimination policy that was even worse than what we saw suffered by Jackie Robinson in 42. In summary, young Aboriginal girls who appeared to be white were taken arbitrarily from their families and taught to be educated maids. As wretched as it seems, it was still taking place in the 1960’s.

In The Sapphires, we find three Aboriginal sisters with great voices trying to make a little local history. When they bump into a boozy manager with news of a contest for groups wanting to sing in South Vietnam, the movie takes off with a spirit that will grab you by the throat.

Our girls, all obviously black, are missing a fourth sibling, a seemingly white Australian who was arbitrarily taken from the family years earlier. They want to participate in the contest, but they need their talented missing sister to join them. In the process, they have to bridge a chasm filled with anger and bitterness, and the girls rapprochement is enthralling to watch.

While I may get the names of the girls wrong, they are played by the charming Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell. They are all warm and engaging, and they have brilliant singing abilities. To watch them performing songs from the 60’s is a load of fun.

Quite frankly, it is profoundly ironic that I would praise the performance of a white actor in this film much as I did with the review of 42. On the other hand, Harrison Ford’s Branch Rickey at all times had Jackie Robinson’s back, and Chris O’Dowd is a work of art in this movie from beginning to end.

Most of you will remember Mr. O’Dowd as the police officer who fell in love with Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids (2011). Here, he is a lightweight musical manager who loves alcohol almost as much he does Wilson Pickett. Yet he is mesmerizing beyond words and proves to be as provocative as he is loveable.

What this film adds to the wonderful legacy of Pitch Perfect is some meaningful historical background relating to the group’s participation in Vietnam. That country was the functional equivalent of a cancerous lesion infecting much of the world in 1968, and the Sapphires had no idea of the monster that awaited them.

Anyone in the U.S. alive at that time clearly remembers that ‘68 was the year that began with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and ended with the election of Richard Nixon. Added to the trauma was the fact that college-age men were subject to the draft, and it was an agonizing time that you were not likely to forget if you graduated in 1969 like I did.

While Mr. O’Dowd and the girls bonded as they traveled through Vietnam, their lives were clearly on the line. Just like the tragic bombings in this year’s Boston Marathon, death waited around the next corner.

Yet Mr. O’Dowd and the Sapphires treated the entire experience with passion and profound honesty. See this delightful movie as soon as possible because you are likely to fall in love with the entire group.