A rowdy charmer from Australia, “The Sapphires” illustrates how the same old story — in this case, the one about a 1960s girl group and its struggles — can be freshened up through the novelties of place and characterization. There’s very little in Wayne Blair’s movie you haven’t seen before, and with most of the same clichés, but you still feel an exuberant kick when the three Aborigine sisters (plus one cousin) launch into the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” before a crowd of Vietnam-era G.I.’s.
“The Sapphires” is a (very) fictionalized account of the experiences of two singers, Laurel Robinson and Lois Peeler, based on a stage play by Robinson’s son, co-screenwriter Tony Briggs. In the film, the three McCrae sisters and their cousin grow up far out in the outback, singing hymns as children and progressing to American C&W by early adulthood. Gail (Deborah Mailman) is the fierce mother hen, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) the party girl, and kid sister Julie (Jessica Mauboy) has the voice. The cousin, Kay (Shari Sebbens), is lighter-skinned than the rest and becomes part of Australia’s notorious Stolen Generations, forcibly removed and raised by the state to “fit into” white society.