Based on a play of the same name, The Sapphires is a spirited but misguided Australian musical feature from director Wayne Blair and writers Tony Briggs and Keith Thomspson. Loosely based on the experiences of Briggs mother and aunt - a postscript reveals that it is very loosely based - the film tells the story of the Cummeraganja Songbirds, a plucky girl group, made up of sisters, who travel to Vietnam to entertain the troops and find fame and fortune. With a swift name change, to the easier to pronounce The Sapphires, and the addition of a new member, their estranged cousin, the group enlist the help of enthusiastic 'soul man' but rather useless drunk Dave (Chris O'Dowd) and set about shooting for the stars.
Whilst the fact that the group never quite make it to the top should not be a surprise it is, in a way, a rather pleasing story development in a film that it is otherwise incredibly by-the-numbers. With every turn The Sapphires appears to reveal the screenwriters reluctance to show courage in what they are writing; plot points hint at something unexpected before falling back on the obvious and characters behave in reckless and almost surprising ways before quickly apologising. Occasionally the screenwriters even dip their toes into commenting on the racial tensions that an all aboriginal girl group in the sixties has to face before quickly pulling them out of such interesting waters and getting on with the light hearted japes.
Cheifly responsible for these japes is O'Dowd, who is the bright spot amongst a number of middling characters - more the result of weak writing than bad performances - and his attempts at injecting a little soul into a group that have up until now been performing country and western standards provides the film's funniest scenes. The musical performances are also pleasant enough but there is little that really pops or shines, despite the group's rather glittering name. Incongruity is rife too with a number of songs plucked from the seventies, despite the film's clear setting in 1968. The choreography during the many musical numbers is also disappointing at times, falling back on very unexpressive traditional moves and framing for the most part and looking like something of a cheap imitation as a result.
Cheapness is a general issue throughout too, with the sequences set in Vietnam suffering greatly from Blair failing to mask the artificiality of what we are seeing. An attack on an army base, for instance, should be tense and actually rather upsetting for anyone invested in the relationships on screen but it is very seriously undermined by characters awkwardly leaping out of the way of unconvincing explosions going off on a flatly lit location.
Innocuous and inoffensive The Sapphires is an easy film to watch, too easy perhaps, and many will find it a pleasant enough evening at the cinema but for those looking for something a little bit more special or something with any bite or sparkle, it's best to look elsewhere.