The Sapphires Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

The Sapphires

Starring Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy, and Shari Sebbins

Directed by Wayne Blair

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The Sapphires begins with title cards writing the context of Australia’s anti-Aboriginal poilicies, including the separation of light skinned Aboriginal children from their parents. This movie portrays a family’s daughters trying to heal each other’s wounds. Then it focuses on the personal, loosely based on the true story of four Aboriginal cousins who sang folk and country music but eventually branching out to soul music, the dominant genre of the volatile late 1960’s. They have overcome race and class-based oppression, both from outsiders and even from within the group or family.

One of the group’s real life members, Laurel Robinson, is the mother of this movie’s sscreenwriter, Tony Briggs, whose script is adapted from his award-winning play of the same name. That said, here I am, as one of the last people who will point out the bad parts of the movie. Because I must, as much as it pains me to do so.

This group, in whatever capacity and perseverance that they had, performed in Australia and war-torn Vietnam. There was the group’s big sister Gail (Mailman), the kitteny Cynthia (Tapsell), the young mother Julie with the booming voice (Mauboy), and the Kay, (Sebbins) who is ambivalent about her race. We can already imagine the personalities clashing.

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For dramatic purposes, the movie adds a homeless band manager Dave Lovelace (O’Dowd, who gets first billing), the groups’ matriarch, a band member’s child and love interests to the mix. I’m all right with this handful of characters, but I can’t say the same about their dynamic. Name two characters and I guarantee that they are going to air out a grudge against each other at least in one of many fighting scene.
I understand, as a person belonging to a ‘minority’ group, that it’s not easy to face racial tension. While encountering these obstacles, I also understand the group members’ instinct is to fight back or fight each other, as some people do in real life. Their instincts are better than dismissing and permanently suppressing their emotions and needs, which is what many female characters unfortunately are written to do.

But I’m sure fictional characters or real life people in the most challenging of situations aren’t always yelling at someone. Blair and Briggs’ only weapon to counter the combative dialogue is the blaring music. These frenetic elements become slightly unpalatable in a movie that desperately needs its quiet moments.

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But despite of calling the music ‘blaring,’ I have to admit that the musical numbers are the film’s most moving segments. It didn’t matter which genre the girls were singing in. Some songs made me cry and others made me dance in my seat, as they are meant to do.

This movie also belongs to the roster of musicals that the Weinsteins pick up once every few years. I acknowledge the numerous sins that they have committed, but at least they love modern spins on so-called ‘dated’ genres. They also like great leading female performances, like the one that Mailman executes with such versatility.

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This Is 40 Review (Kirk Haviland)

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This Is 40 (2012)

Starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Megan Fox, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Chris O’Dowd, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Graham Parker, Lena Dunham, Annie Mumolo, Robert Smigel, Charlyne Yi, Lisa Darr with John Lithgow and Albert Brooks

Written and Directed by Judd Apatow

With This is 40, Judd Apatow’s latest directorial effort, we delve back in to the world that he created years ago with “Knocked Up”, this time focusing on the lives of Pete and Debbie instead of Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigel’s Ben and Allison. In fact Rogen and Heigl are completely missing from the entire film this time around. The real question is can Apatow craft a successful follow up to “Knocked Up” by going a completely different direction with it?

Five years after “Knocked Up” introduced us to Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann), we are re-introduced to the couple approaching a milestone in each of their lives in This Is 40. After years of marriage, Pete lives in a house of all females, wife Debbie and their two daughters, eight-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow) and 13-year-old Sadie (Maude Apatow).  As Pete struggles to keep his record label afloat, Debbie is trying to figure out which of her employees is stealing from her clothing store and both are trying to figure out how to cope with turning the big 4 O. We follow the couple through three weeks between Debbie and Pete’s birthdays and bear witness to the trials and tribulations that come out of a couple struggling to reignite and continue their romance well past 40.

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This is 40 is in many ways a mess of a film, but it does enough to get the job done. The script is very biographical in nature, with some flights of fancy thrown in for effect, but sadly comes in around half-hour too long. The story seems a natural and logical progression of the main characters from “Knocked Up”, and it’s the core family sections that work the best. The biggest issue is the decision to completely ignore the fact that Katherine Heigl played Mann’s sister in “Knocked Up”. With Apatow just ignoring the fact that Heigl and Rogen are missing in this follow up, it ends up hanging like a cloud over the entire film. But even without Heigl and Rogen appearing, even ignoring the existence of the previous movie all-together, this movie has major issues. Everything associated with Debbie`s store is superfluous and unrealistic. Debbie and Desi’s (Fox) night on the town, complete with the roster of the Philadelphia Flyers in tow, is quite ridiculous and only there to mirror the very similar scene from Knocked Up. Add in a random “biological” father to showing up in Debbie’s life (thus making sure he is NOT the father of Heigl’s character from the previous film as well) and adding Albert Brooks trying to deliver “the most Jewish performance of all time” as Rudd’s father doesn’t work either.

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Mann and Rudd are good here, and mange to keep the train on the tracks. Megan Fox, Lithgow, Segal and O’Dowd are solid here, even if there characters make little sense in the film’s context. The real issues here are Yi and Brooks. While normally I would be fawning over Brooks in a movie, his performance here looks like Apatow spent the time with Brooks in bewilderment instead of reeling him in, and his performance is almost insufferable because of it. And Yi is pretty terrible here, her act is starting to wear thin and despite serious implications against her character she is never more than a punch line. Apatow’s daughters as the daughters in the film show real chemistry, but since they are sisters and are acting with their real life mom Mann, this should hardly be surprising. That said, when it comes to having to go more dramatic in parts, his eldest Maude shows she is out of her league as she is not convincing in the slightest. Melissa McCarthy, in not much more than a glorified cameo, rips every scene that she is in away from everyone around her as she is one of the funniest parts of the film. In fact make sure to stick around into the credits as there is an outtake sequence of McCarthy’s scene which may be the funniest part of the film.

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While flawed and with multiple issues, This Is 40 is still laugh out loud funny in many parts, and the stuff around the family core is actually pretty solid. Despite its shortcomings This is 40 is still a recommend.

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