In only a few days, Hollywood has infiltrated Cannes. On the fourth night of the festival, a lovely but fleeting Australian film, backed by movie mogul and Oscar-buzz creator Harvey Weinstein received thunderous applause both before and after the showing, mostly it would seem because of the named attached to it and the way it makes you feel good about yourself when watching.
Telling the relative true story of four aboriginal Australian young women who form a pop group in the late 1960’s, the film will make you happy and move around in your seat, but little else. Race relations, a ‘stolen generation’ of black youth, and the Vietnam war all serve as powerful backdrops to the story, glossing over these serious topics however in the service of sexual tension, witty banter, and lots of pop music.
Perhaps Weinstein selected the movie because it so cleverly pulls you in. Chris O’Dowd is incredibly charming and effective as the girls’ manager Dave Lovelace, with his Melbourne accent and excessive drinking. The girls are lovely, but markedly different: there is the older alpha sister, the rising star, the sex/love fiend, and the outcast. Throw in some very popular soul music of the 1960’s, and it’s hard not to hook anyone.
Afterwards, however, once the applause and clapping and music end, there is not much left. The film goes no further than ‘lovely’ and ‘charming,’ as Lovelace gets them an audition to tour Vietnam and entertain the troops, with the girls amazing audiences each step of the way. The brutal nature of war cannot be ignored, and director Wayne Blair curiously adds in mere seconds of real life footage amid the colorful and glossy fiction.
Lovelace and the girls—The Sapphires, a name they quickly adopt—travel around Vietnam, meet men, entertain, and occasionally question what they are doing there. Hearts naturally get broken, and bullets do eventually fly, but it’s never so harsh that the audience is forced to think critically or be emotionally challenged.
The Hollywood film, one that contends for Oscars and captures the attention of a nation is one defined by the charm of its characters, and the way in which the serious of the subject matter is eased, allowing anyone who watches to maintain a sense of satisfaction. The Sapphires will grab everyone, and that is exactly what is should do—the music is universal, the dialogue is spot on in wit, with some adult humour thrown in for good measure, and when bad things start to happen, those in power make sure it doesn’t happen for too long, abutting the bad with some James Brown or The Staple Singers.
Before the film, The Weinstein Company logo got the biggest applause, while a spattering of cheers were heard for the Australian groups that participated. As it ended, though, the audience in Cannes was erupted in immediate thunderous applause, moved by the final catchy number and likely filled with a sense of security knowing that there is nothing too great that soulful music and Chris O’Dowd can’t solve.