TIFF 2012: Is Musical Drama ‘Sapphires’ Actually the Next ‘Artist’?



Back in May, commanding executive Harvey Weinstein declared that his latest acquisition, The Sapphires, was “the next Artist.” Last year, Weinstein picked up the French language film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and successfully paraded it all the way to the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. When The Sapphires premiered at Cannes 2012, the mega-producer knew he had another hit on hits hands and the bold comparison forcefully pushed the film into awards contention. Harvey Weinstein: war strategist.

Does The Sapphires actually live up to the hype of its bellowing campaign manager? The Australian drama kicked off its award season journey at the Toronto Film Festival to little fanfare, overshadowed by fresher films being unveiled for the first time. But the film — starring Bridesmaids costar Chris O’Dowd and Aboriginal actresses from down under — really is the perfect feel good movie that voters have often gravitated towards. The Sapphires has all the components for Oscar potential: Set in the 1960s (period drama, check!), the movie follows four rambunctious gals struggling with Australia’s racial divide (easily recognizable conflict, check!) who hit it big when they’re hired to perform pop song covers (musical numbers, check!) for soldiers serving in Vietnam (war movie, check!). Along the way, a few of the ladies fall in love (romance, check!) and O’Dowd serves up a memorable, hilarious performance as the group’s manager (breakout actor, check!). If only one of them had a terminal illness….

The Weinstein Company still has a challenge on its hands. Missing from the near-perfect checklist is a recognizable actor to slap on a poster and sell the darn thing. The Sapphires‘ Australian stars, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell, are wonderful as the main quartet, but they’re unknown. The movie’s background adds to the uphill battle; not to say that Americans are ignorant, but the past proves world films have never done the business or award-collecting that homegrown blockbusters routinely do. The Sapphires is very Australian — a treat for anyone unfamiliar with the Aboriginal culture, but not as easily digestible for U.S. audiences as, say, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

But as proven by The Artist, sometimes straight-up great buzz can turn the unlikeliest movies into hits. The Sapphires is reminiscent of the picture perfect dramas of the ’80s and ’90s. Think Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man or Forrest Gump. Last year, The Help recreated that magic with a mix of serious drama and light laughs. The Sapphires does the same thing. O’Dowd as Dave, a burnout Irish musician desperate for a new gig, is the embodiment of that balance. When Dave’s tough on the girls, pushing them to leave behind their families to audition for the Vietnam tour, he’s inspirational and heartfelt. When he’s flirting with Gail (Mailman), he’s a total goof. And as anyone who knows his comedic work on shows like The IT Crowd, he can sell even dopiest one-liner.

The Sapphires is fluff, but it’s well done fluff. That’s the biggest link between The Artist and director Wayne Blair’s debut feature: they’re sweet. If a black & white silent picture could take the top spot at year’s end, why not one about four Aussie ladies with voices like Beyoncé?

[Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company]

Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches


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