Harkening back to the golden age of Miramax pap, Wayne Blair’s feel-good-or-else musical is to the oppression of Australian natives what Brassed Off was to British miners’ strikes. Claiming what seems at best a tenuous connection to history, The Sapphires puts Aussie pop star Jessica Mauboy at the head of a ’60s aboriginal girl group tapped to sing for American troops in Vietnam. The band’s down-on-his-luck manager (Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd) finally finds the limit of his previously bottomless charisma, while its eldest, most battle-scarred member (Deborah Mailman) shoulders the burden of actual day-to-day responsibility.
During one rehearsal, the resident Svengali hangs cardboard signs around the girls’ necks (Lead Singer; The Sexy One); ironically, the movie does the same, lifelessly cycling through prefab archetypes and a predictable rise-to-fame formula. Cowriter Tony Briggs claims a familial connection to two real-life Sapphires, but the script sprinkles on historical detail like a cook trying to salvage a bland dish with handfuls of salt: Making one light-skinned singer a “lost child” abducted by the government and placing her with a white family hardly counts as cinematic reparation, much less reckoning with the country’s ignoble history. The Sapphires might pass muster as escapist fluff, but its pretensions of significance go woefully awry.
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