Last night I went to a 10:35 pm showing of Wayne Blair‘s The Sapphires (Weinstein Co.), which I’ve been praising up and down since catching it 10 and 1/2 months ago in Cannes. It was playing in a smaller Arclight theatre (#12) and there were 20 or 25 people in the seats, if that. I enjoyed it almost as much as that Cannes viewing. It was a tiny better in Cannes because I wasn’t expecting much and I didn’t know how good Chris O’Dowd would be. This time I was just looking for a nice repeat and I got that, but the first time is the charm.

The Sapphires is an Aboriginal Dreamgirls set in 1968, smaller-scaled and flavored/punctuated with rural Australia and war-torn Vietnam. Less flash and razzle-dazzle, no strobe lights and more emotionally restrained than Dreamgirls plus no Beyonce, Jamie Foxx or Eddie Murphy…but with the robust, note-perfect O’Dowd and ripe, live-wire performances from Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell — great singers, attractive and emotionally pronounced in every scene.

This is a smallish film with heart and charm and humor and rousing music, and yet The Sapphires made beans this weekend in four theatres ($40,9000 = $10 grand per screen or $3300 per theatre per day). I guess I knew this would happen but it still doesn’t feel right. The Weinsteiners know that a character-driven indie film about an Aborginal girl group isn’t hooky or flashy or oomphy enough for the megaplex popcorn-heads and so they’re starting out small, but…I don’t know but it feels a bit frustrating.

I know that the weekend’s biggest hit, Olympus Has Fallen (which took in 30 million and change in 3098 theatres), is one of the dumbest, cheesiest and most depressingly low-grade Die Hard flicks ever and the people who made and distributed it are popping the champagne. The book is called “When Good Things Happen To Bad People.”

I know that the Film Week guys on KCCP didn’t even mention The Sapphires, much less discuss it, during their 3.22 discussion.

Could it be that people are assuming the film might be about a lesbian singing group? Sapphire, sappho, etc. I’m just free-associating here.

From my Cannes Film Festival review: “A healthy portion is cool, snappy, rousing, well-cut and enormously likable. (And dancable.) That would be the first 40%, when the true-life tale of an Aboriginal Supremes-like group assembled and took shape in Australia in 1968. This 40-minute section, trust me, is definitely worth the price.

“But the main reason the film delivers overall is Chris O’Dowd‘s performance as Dave, a charmingly scuzzy boozer and Motown fanatic who steers the four girl singers (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell) away from country and towards soul music, and then takes them to Vietnam to entertain U.S. troops. Dowd’s manner and personality are a total kick — an absolute hands-down winner and the best reason to see The Sapphires, even when it turns sketchy in the last half or so.

“I was saying to myself during the first 10 or 15 minutes, ‘Whoa, this is pretty good…not as high-throttle razzmatzzy as Dreamgirls but I like it better.’ And then it kept on going and hitting the marks for the most part. Blair is a talented director who knows how to cut and groove and put on a show. [Even during the parts] when it’s not really working The Sapphires at least keeps the ball in the air with reasonable agility and sass. The analogy, come to think, isn’t really Dreamgirls as much as Hustle and Flow and The Commitments, at least during those first 40 minutes.

“The soul classics are delightful to savor throughout. The music put me in a good mood right away and kept me there.

“The script is by Aboriginal actor-writer Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson, and based on Brigg’s 2004 stage play, which was based on his mom’s true story (as the closing credits infom).”