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This melodrama is wonderfully entertaining, thanks in no small part to Chris O'Dowd's assured lead performance....
Anchor Bay / 99 Minutes / 2012 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: August 6, 2013
As Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires begins, it’s painfully obvious that things are not all smiles in 1960s Australia. Rampant discrimination against the country’s aboriginal people seems to be at a fever pitch, and when a trio of sisters – Cynthia, Gail, and Julie – perform at a local talent contest, it’s clear that their pipes are the best in the place (they really nail it), but they ultimately lose their prize because of the color of their skin. It’s enough to drive one crazy.
Yet there’s someone in the audience who seems this cultural odiousness as an opportunity. Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) is a talent scout in the audience of the girls’ performance, and while it would seem that his best days are behind him, his interest is piqued by their killer voices. And as it turns out, these parties find themselves in a mutually beneficial scenario: the girls want to find a way to get to Vietnam and perform for the boys in battle there, and Lovelace needs a hit.
What ensues is a prototypically engaging 1990s Miramax-style melodrama that is equal parts melodrama, history lesson, and tearjerker. There is a saccharine, hands-off quality to the more serious elements of the movie’s thematic background – racism is certainly addressed, but never in any in-depth or profound way – but this easily-digestible sensibility ends up playing in the movie’s favor. There may not be much gristle or rawness to Blair’s tale, but it’s a delight to experience, nevertheless.
Much of this can be attributed to O’Dowd’s lanky charisma. On the surface, the guy brings an aw-shucks, big-smile charm, but he’s able to infuse this guy-next-door archetype with a deeply-felt gravitas that really makes his character come to life. The Sapphires, as enjoyable as it is, skirts around the slippery, difficult facets within its narrative scope, but O’Dowd is able to bring a depth, a sadness, and eventually a propensity for redemption to a role that feels well-rounded and accomplished. This kid’s going somewhere.