Sapphires sparkle in feel-good movie

Dazzling ... <i>The Sapphires</i> hit all the right notes.
Dazzling ... The Sapphires hit all the right notes.

Among the hundreds of films released each year, every once in a while you happen upon a gem. The Sapphires, true to its name, is one of them.

Inspired by a true story, it's also a proudly Australian story and follows four young Aboriginal women, who in 1968 are flown to the war-zones of South Vietnam to perform for American troops.

Directed by Wayne Blair, it's filled with an infectious energy and soul classics that will make you want to buy the soundtrack, but unlike many musicals that are over-the-top and camp (not necessarily in a bad way), The Sapphires feels more realistic.

While its authenticity brings to light issues like war and racism, the overall tone remains irrepressibly upbeat and celebratory.

Perfectly cast, it stars Deborah Mailman (TV's Offspring) as Gail, the bossy older sister to the cheeky Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and lead singer Julie (pop star Jessica Mauboy, showing off some stunning vocals).

Making up the fourth vital ingredient of The Sapphires is the girls' fair-skinned cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens). She delivers some of the film's more powerful moments - taking over singing from a distraught Julie in a war hospital, defending her cousins before armed Vietnamese locals and taking part in an indigenous ceremony that's beautiful regardless of whether you understand the language or not.

However none of the four outshine any of the others.

They all sparkle just as bright alongside Bridesmaids' Chris O'Dowd as Dave Lovelace, a down-on-his-luck Irish musician with a passion for soul music who discovers the girls.

O'Dowd's charming soul man has a great scene explaining to them why, "90 per cent of recorded music is shite. The other 10 per cent is soul".

Naturally funny, O'Dowd also gets a chance to stretch his drama chops and with Gail, creates a love story that doesn't feel cheesy or forced.

The Sapphires focuses on the girls' personal lives - their bickering, dreams and falling in love - instead of the politics of the time, which are referenced, but don't take centre stage.

It's based on a stage production written by Tony Briggs, whose mother was one of the women that inspired the story, and who co-wrote the screenplay with Keith Thompson.

The soundtrack is a pumping collection of soul classics like What A Man, I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) and a gorgeous rendition of Who's Loving You, as well as an original toe-tapping single by Mauboy called Gotcha.

Heartfelt and feel-good, it's hard not to get caught up in the story of The Sapphires, so here's hoping Australia will embrace this very special film.

The Sapphires releases in Australian cinemas on August 9

This story Sapphires sparkle in feel-good movie first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.