Marinate elements of "Dreamgirls," "The Color Purple," and "M*A*S*H" in Australian accents and cook with lots of heart and you have ""The Sapphires."
Based on a true story, the film follows four Aboriginal girls as they embark on the adventure of a lifetime in war-torn Vietnam with the help of a down-but-not-out, soul-loving Irish music promoter Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd).
Each of three sisters is ready to break out life in Commeragunja and pursue the dream of a performing career. Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) was left at the altar. Julie (Jessica Mauboy) has a son, but no husband. As the eldest, Gail (Deborah Mailman) feels the need to watch over her sisters, and is also deeply conflicted about the consequences of the life path forced on their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens).
The emotionally rich film is never treacly or preachy. Instead it dispenses humor and honesty as it navigates the challenging terrain of love, family, and ambition against a backdrop of war and racism. "Why won’t the cab pick us up?" complains Cynthia. "Because you’re black, stupid!" quips Gail.
The performances are uniformly excellent, from the leads to their segregated township family members and the Saigon-deployed soldiers they entertain. O’Dowd radiates a wonderfully sleep-wrinkled sexiness and Mailman’s steely pragmatism is a perfect foil for him.
The bonus here is that it’s a musical and the sung sequences, from awkward rehearsals to triumphant homecoming, benefit from Mauboy’s outstanding vocals on the R&B numbers, plus some truly touching group a capella takes on Aboriginal folk songs.
It’s a rich mix of elements, from a play by Tony Briggs, adapting here with Keith Thompson, and smartly directed by Wayne Blair, that makes "The Sapphires" a true gem.
The home video release is a Blu-ray + DVD combo and extras are limited, but include a "Making of" featurette, an interview with Mauboy about performing the music, and a conversation between screenwriter Briggs and the original Sapphires (one of whom is his mother).
Blu-ray Combo Pack