This puttin’-the-band-together road trip could easily be written off as The Commitments-meets-Dreamgirls-Of-The-Never-Never-on-China-Beach. The girls are black, the music is soul and an Irishman is drunk — in Saigon! But that simply describes the furniture in a based-on-true story at times beautiful, funny and serious as war.
Adapted by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs from the latter’s stage show, the script juggles goosebump performances (damn, Jessica Mauboy can sing), knockabout humour, tenderness and social comment with care. Blair’s direction is big on colour and sound, less on soapbox hand-wringing. The Stolen Generation is addressed with poignancy, and the realities of being indigenous in a 1968 Australia are never far away, but these women are heroes, not victims, and the film is entertainment, not gospel.
Performances are infectious (Tapsell is a bawdy riot), but the spirit is captured by Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd, who finds darkness and grit amid the blarney.
But, tonally torn, the third act fiddle-faddles lining its ducks in a row, a pit stop to the closing number. And the ’60s production design, particularly the Vietnam scenes (shot on location), has a TV mini-series quality at odds with the sun-drenched widescreen of rural Victoria. But narrative finesse and period verisimilitude are not the reasons to be here. This is about triumph over adversity and a arse-wriggling good time.
Feel-good Australian cinema, packed with laughs and soul (both kinds).