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dir Wayne Blair
scr Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
prd Rosemary Blight, Kylie Du Fresne
with Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Tory Kittles, Don Battee, Eka Darville, Lynette Narkle, Kylie Belling, Hunter Page-Lochard, Meyne Wyatt
release Aus 9.Aug.12, UK 2.Nov.12
For the boys: Mailman, Tapsell, Mauboy and Sebbens (above); O'Dowd (below)
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Based on a true story, this crowd-pleasing comedy is packed with sparky characters and situations, plus powerfully dramatic moments that catch us by surprise. It also uses great music to keep our toes tapping all the way through.
In 1968, Dave (O'Dowd) is a wasted drunk trawling the bars of rural Australia looking for talent. Then he meets three sisters who actually have some: Gail, Cynthia and Julie (Mailman, Tapsell and Mauboy) call themselves the Cummeraganja Songbirds. As aboriginals, they're shunned by bigoted white society, but they want to sing for the troops in Vietnam. So Dave gets them an audition and, joined by their cousin Kay (Sebbens), they head into the war zone renamed the Sapphires. He also gets them to stop singing country and learn some soul.
A riot of fabulous musical numbers and feisty attitude, the film's trump card is O'Dowd, who adds scruffy, offhanded charm to every scene while generously drawing out strong performances from the cast around him. The bickering relationship between Dave and Gail is involving, despite its predictability, and each of the four women gets her own subplot or two, including a bit of romance. Meanwhile, a steady stream of terrific side characters adds colour and texture, all mixed together with a heavy dose of broad-dry Aussie humour.
As a result, we are fully engaged with the characters when the plot takes its more serious turns into unpredictable war-zone violence as well as the underlying issue of racism at a pivotal moment in both US and Australian history. These elements provide heart-stopping moments that counterbalance the more obvious love stories, which at least develop realistically as battlefield flings rather than cinematic happy ever afters.
But of course the main thing here is the music, and the soulful show-stoppers are simply delightful. Especially when they're performed full-tilt on make-shift stages surrounded by cheering soldiers. Not only does this add a tinge of present-day relevance, but it undergirds the comedy with a remarkably serious sense of life and death, putting the period's racial issues into striking context. It's a very clever little film that wins us over from the start, keeps us laughing and tapping our toes, then sends us out with something to think about.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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