Review: O'Dowd charms in 'The Sapphires'
This film publicity image released by The Weinstein Company shows, from left, Chris Dowd as Dave, Deborah Mailman as Gail, Shari Sebbens as Kay, Jessica Mauboy as Julie, and Miranda Tapsell as Cynthia in a scene from "The Sapphires." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Lisa Tomasetti)
"The Sapphires" is missing a lot — detailed characters, a unique narrative arc, half-plausible scenes of the Vietnam War — but it's got two uncommon things going for it: genuine charm and Chris O'Dowd. They are not mutually exclusive.
O'Dowd, the Irish comedic actor, has no proper business being in "The Sapphires," a film about four Aboriginal sisters in rural '60s Australia who set out to make it as a pop singing group. But this is the same actor who managed to play a Milwaukee police officer with his natural brogue in "Bridesmaids." His passport, thankfully, has some peculiar powers.
In "The Sapphires," he plays a heavy-drinking former cruise ship entertainer named Dave who has somehow wound up in an Australian backwater hosting a rinky-dink local talent show. The film first greets him passed out in the back of his car. When he wakes, he goes for his sunglasses and a pint before his pants. "Soul Man" is playing, the joke being that this pale and lanky boozer is not exactly a shining star of Motown.
This film publicity image released by The Weinstein Company shows, from left, Deborah Mailman as Gail, Jessica Mauboy as Julie, Miranda Tapsell as Cynthia, and Shari Sebbens as Kay from "The Sapphires." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Lisa Tomasetti)
But, he insists, the music is in his veins: "My blood runs Negro," he says, a joke to everyone but him. And when he sees three sisters — Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) — perform a Merl Saunders tune, he's immediately blown away. He tells them to ditch the country music for soul and soon they (along with an estranged fourth sister, Kay, played by Shari Sebbens) are off to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam as a Supremes-esque foursome, with Dave as manager.
Like Bill Murray did in the '70s, O'Dowd enlivens the otherwise thin but buoyant film with his winning charisma. He's the off-color, off-key salvation to this bright and simple Australian period musical.