You could call it an Aussie Dreamgirls. I’d call it a blast of joy and music that struts right into your heart. The truth at the core of this movie is that an Aboriginal female soul quartet had to push past racial discrimination at home to entertain troops in Vietnam in 1968. Writer Tony Briggs turned the story of his mother and her group into a 2004 stage smash. And now, with the help of screenwriter Keith Thompson, and Wayne Blair in a striking feature-directing debut, the play is a movie that is just plain irresistible. Transitional bumps are easy to ignorewhen a movie ignites with this much spirit and humor.
The Aboriginal sister actof Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and young powerhouse Julie (Jessica Mauboy) isn’t going far at home with country & western covers. But Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), an Irish boozer reduced to playing piano in pubs, sees something magical in them, notably when they tear into soul music. With the addition of their snob cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), ignoring her family to pass for white in Melbourne, the girls test their talent and luck on tour in Vietnam as the Sapphires.
Dave signs on as their manager and musical director. He has his hands full, especially locking horns with the tartmouthed Gail (Mailman is to die for), whose hostility toward Dave barely masks her real feelings. Prepare to be wowed by O’Dowd. If you’ve seen him as the cop in Bridesmaids and on Lena Dunham’s Girls, you know this guy is a wicked scene-stealer. But his performance as Dave is award-caliber, killer funny and alert to every nuance. O’Dowd has never reached this far emotionally. There are times when this appealingly loose-limbed movie stretches truth and tries your patience. But even falling bombs and sloppy sentiment can’t detract from the Sapphires as they stride onstage in sequins singing Motown classics. What glory abides in their voices. And what a treat awaits you watching their dreams play out.