Wednesday 7 November 2012
Rough cuts: "The Sapphires"
The Sapphires, a musical soap opera loosely based on the formation of the first all-Aboriginal girl band in the 1960s, stages a knockdown, drag-out catfight between the sunnily feelgood and the broadly terrible. If Mamma Mia! taught us anything, after all, it's that we're not supposed to mind the slapdash things in life, so long as everyone around us is having a grand old time. That film had the werewithal - sense would seem too strong a word - to confine its awfulness to a Greek fantasy island; The Sapphires clodhops over real-world issues (the war in Vietnam, the state appropriation of Aborigine children), usually with non-American performers attempting non-convincing American accents in the roles of the GIs our plucky, punchy heroines encounter in the course of their "journey".
Retaining his own accent, and lending Wayne Blair's film whatever precision and timing it has, Chris O'Dowd is paying some serious dues as the girls' washed-up Irish manager, and it's true The Sapphires perks up upon breaking into its musical numbers (spirited renditions of such cast-iron pop classics as "I'll Take You There", "What a Man" and "I Can't Help Myself"), where some kind of harmonisation occurs between what the film sets out to achieve and what it actually can. Yet it's so klutzy in almost every other respect, you just wish it'd stuck to playing the hits. It'll almost certainly emerge as a polished touring musical in a few years' time: you could easily skip this rehearsal stage in the material's development, which has soul, but only of the sloppy variety.
The Sapphires opens nationwide today.