A breakout screen star last year thanks to Bridesmaids, Chris O'Dowd heads Down Under for his latest film, '60s-set musical comedy The Sapphires. He plays Dave Lovelace, a soul-loving, booze-dependent music promoter who unearths a talented Aboriginal girl band and takes them on a tour across Vietnam.
An idea that only have been hatched by Hollywood, you might think? However, in this case, it's all inspired by the true story of Sapphires screenwriter Tony Briggs's mother and aunt. Briggs's family history formed the basis of a 2004 stage production, and now the story has been translated to the big screen by director Wayne Blair.
Deborah Mailman is the only cast holdover from the original stage version, reprising her role as the group's "Momma Bear" Gail. She's joined by Australian Idol winner Jessica Mauboy as lead singer Julie, Miranda Tapsell as boy-crazy Cynthia and Shari Sebbens as Kay, the sisters' fair-skinned cousin who finds herself separated from them early on under heartbreaking circumstances.
Lovelace first encounters the group singing a downbeat country song at a talent contest. They're criminally snubbed because of skin colour, but Lovelace recognises their potential. For him, though, the choice of country music is a poor fit - it's all about loss, whereas soul has passion, emotion and is about reclaiming what's slipped through your fingers.
The group's switch to soul (and a name change from the Cummeragunja Song Birds to the catchier Sapphires) introduces some toe-tapping song and dance montages to classic tunes from the likes or Marvin Gaye, Sam & Dave and the Jackson 5.
Blair keeps the tone bright and upbeat for the most part, following the girls as they drink, dance, befriend soldiers and grow to respect their manager Lovelace. It's when the The Sapphires switches to a more serious tone that things don't run quite so smoothly. Blair digs into racial divides, both within the group and beyond as Martin Luther King's assassination becomes a plot point in the third act, yet these are never invested with the sort of grit or seriousness that could have given the movie something just that little bit more.
It also doesn't quite manage to juggle all four girls' personal stories successfully, pulling Gail and Kay front-and-centre and sidelining Julie and Cynthia. Nevertheless, all four deliver some sparky performances and fire off well against the charismatic O'Dowd, whose washed-out Lovelace manages to find redemption through music.
Those looking for an injection of feel-good will leave The Sapphires satisfied, but it stumbles clumsily through its weightier themes and somehow feels like it could have been served better as a TV miniseries with more time to explore its characters. Still, it's hard to resist The Sapphires's twinkly charm and phenomenal soundtrack.
Photo gallery - BFI London Film Festival 2012 in pictures: