Films for the New Year: The Sapphires
Looking for pleasure over paranoia, Eleanor Butler’s movie to see in the new year is a whole lot of feel good
I won’t lie, I was somewhat confused when the pandemic-thriller Contagion gained newfound popularity in 2020. Towards the start of the health crisis, the SARS-inspired film topped Netflix’s trending list, and there has even been subsequent talk of a sequel. Whilst this may sound like a perfect night in for some, there are others who would prefer a dose of escapism this January. If you fancy a movie to bring a smile to your face, the musical comedy The Sapphires is definitely one to add to your watchlist.
Directed by the Aboriginal Australian director Wayne Blair, this film really delivers on the feel-good factor, meaning that we can forgive its rather predictable structure. The story follows the journey of four Aboriginal singers, based on real-life women, who catch their musical break in 1968. With the help of their mildly ridiculous, often drunk manager, played by Chris O’Dowd, the girls win a place to travel to Vietnam and sing for American soldiers. Full of sequins, hoops and hairspray, the film shines visually; yet its main attraction is undoubtably the soundtrack. Although many directors are still stubbornly casting non-singers in their musical adaptations (sorry Russell Crowe), Blair’s cast will make you sit up and listen, as the girls confidently belt out soul classics such as ‘What A Man’ and ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’.
Even if it doesn’t make you get up and dance, it will most certainly make you laugh
The film’s success, whilst largely drawn from the musical numbers, can also be attributed to the strong rapport between the female leads. As the girls all belong to the same extended family, the screenplay does well to capture this sisterly bond in all its complexities. Deborah Mailman is convincing in her role as the feisty eldest sibling, and even though the girls’ relationship is often filled with comic arguments, it is always tinged with an underlying sweetness. O’Dowd’s infiltration of this tightly knit circle is equally humorous, and we see two worlds collide as the Irishman and the Aboriginal singers bond over their love of music.
So, although we could be critical of The Sapphires formulaic plot, this film is ultimately a well-produced and joyous celebration of soul music and sisterhood. Even if it doesn’t make you get up and dance, it will most certainly make you laugh.