IoS film review: The Sapphire
Alps

Great music, great story, but the script needs serious tuning

Even with a different title, The Sapphires would sound like a sparkling film. It's adapted from a stage musical, which isn't necessarily encouraging, but it's also inspired by the life story of the writer's own mother, a member of an Australian Aboriginal girl group which entertained American infantrymen in Vietnam. You couldn't ask for a more promising premise. In the fictionalised version, the young women are crooning Country'*'Western numbers in an outback pub when they're spotted by a washed-up cruise ship MC, Chris O'Dowd. He buys them some sequinned dresses, teaches them about Otis Redding, and soon they're being packed off to Saigon.

Cue some great music and earthy Aussie banter, all of which makes The Sapphires preferable to Beyoncé's girl-group vehicle, Dreamgirls. But over all it's a flimsy, clunkily scripted comedy drama that ignores every question it raises. For instance, we don't learn how an Aboriginal pop group would have been received by a white audience in 1960s Australia, because we never see them perform outside Vietnam. Nor do we learn what it was like for four rural women to perform to crowds of stoned GIs in a distant war zone, because there's more authentic warfare in the average episode of M*A*S*H.

Missed opportunities come thick and fast. The screenplay touches on the connection between African Americans and indigenous Australians, but makes nothing of that connection. One character (played by Jessica Mauboy, an Australian Idol finalist) can't get through a scene without bringing up her dreams of stardom, but then suddenly the subject is dropped, never to be mentioned again. O'Dowd, at least, is likeable. But hearing an Irishman rhapsodise about the majesty of soul music serves only to remind you of The Commitments, and make you wish you were watching that instead.

Yorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth has to be one of the most bizarre movies ever to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And his follow-up, Alps, is almost as strange. Throughout the first half we haven't a clue what the characters are up to. All we know is that we're in a bleak, windswept, greeny-grey Athens, watching a series of banal conversations with something intriguingly not-quite-right about them.

It's only after Lanthimos has kept us in a state of nervous befuddlement for 40 minutes that we get the picture: the Alps is the name of a group who have pioneered their own form of bereavement counselling. For a few hours a week, the four will impersonate someone who has just died in order to help the grieving friends and relatives adjust to their loss. Yes, it's preposterous, but in Lanthimos's world of deadpan surrealism, no one questions the lunacy of the scheme Ω nor does anyone complain that the team-members' wooden impressions of their loved ones hardly constitute value for money.

Charlie Kaufman or Chris Morris might have done wonders with the concept, but Lanthimos's oblique, misanthropic black comedy is most likely to appeal to those who found The Master a bit too straightforward. It's an uncompromising film from a singular talent, but it eventually feels as if one joke is being stretched past the point of being funny.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect