The Sapphires (Australia, 2012)

mza_8700298569545505135Directed by: Wayne Blair. I don’t know why I wanted to see this. A good 90% of it was the promise of Chris O’Dowd and some soul music. That’s about it. I thought it looked a bit like The Commitments, which I didn’t even really care for either at the time, but which I think back on fondly for some reason. That movie, like this one, has a lot of the things I hate about music movies that aren’t musicals: a totally unrealistic approach to singing, blatantly incongruous studio voice-overs trying to pass off for spontaneous source-singing. Add to this the stunted, corny, immature, characterization and dialogue and I really don’t know why I torment myself with these movies. I guess I just like Chris O’Dowd that much, and he is pretty great in this. Arguably without him, this film would actually be unbearable, but with him, it’s just bearable enough to get through 90 minutes (and while we’re at it, why aren’t more movies only 90 minutes long these days?). O’Dowd does his best to inflect his own irreverent inflection to all of that lame dialogue, and the 4 female leads do an admirable job to keep things afloat as much as they can, especially Deborah Mailman (the tough one) who, together with O’Dowd, really brings a pulse to this thing and tips it perceptibly from being unwatchable to being watchable. And it is genuinely interesting to have a lame feel-good comedy with all of those conventions, plopped into the context of Australian racist colonialism and then re-plopped into the context of the Vietnam War. And it’s especially bizarre that all of this legit sociopolitical stuff is kind of just window dressing for the ostensible center of the film—American soul music. The real answer, of course, is that all of it—soul music, Australian racism, the American war in Vietnam—is all just window dressing for the story of these four women finding love, loving each other, for the Irish doofus finding purpose in life with the singers, and of course the Irish doofus and the main singer finding true love together. So then, this movie is about finding true love? I thought it was about finding your true roots in your racial identity amidst the scars produced by Australia’s tumultuous uprooting of Aboriginal children from their parents, and finding that racial identity through American black soul singers (for some reason—because a white Irish drunk guy points you in that direction I guess). But then, in addition to this, is there some allegory about American colonialism in Vietnam? That war is a huge cultural and symbolic powder keg—is the film going to use any of that or is it just backdrop? And also—ohhhhhh heck. I’m thinking too much again. It’s all good, and it’s all bad, and it all makes sense, and it all maybe doesn’t make sense. Who’s keeping track anyway? Just get caught up in the music, you know? Sure, it’s a pretty emaciated and caricatured taste of American 60’s soul music, but the song “Soul Man” is basically all you need to guide you through a movie about the transcendent power of soul music, right? Anyway, I probably wouldn’t see this movie unless you have whatever disease I have that compels me to watch these things.


One response to “The Sapphires (Australia, 2012)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

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