Docu has you falling in love with two of the crazier people you've never met.
A docu that has you falling in love with two of the crazier people you’ve never met, “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” could well add Jools and Lynda Topp to a list that includes spring lamb and “Lord of the Rings” — that is, gifts from New Zealand to a world that usually doesn’t pay it any attention. Specialty distribution, with an emphasis on the gay and expat Kiwi markets, seems a no-brainer for a film that’s pure fun, very musical and a can of mixed nuts.
The Topps defy logic. “On paper,” says their comedy-writer friend, Paul Horan, “yodeling lesbian twins don’t really work.” But for the better part of three decades, the Topp sisters have been gleefully defying accepted wisdom about mainstream entertainment and homophobia, and have become crew-cut demi-goddesses in a country where the national character includes a warped sense of humor.
“We’re not comedians,” Lynda Topp says. “We’re singers who are funny.” But their cast of characters — beery farmers Ken Smythe and Ken Moller in their bad polyester, or the Posh Socialites Prue and Dilly Ramsbottom — are so fully realized and such a part of New Zealand pop culture that Lynda Topp’s disclaimer has to be chalked up to modesty. Someone dubs them “an anarchist variety act,” and that’s a good description.
Musically, the pair resemble those American pop icons Phil and Don Everly, inasmuch as they sound like one voice harmonizing with itself. During an ’80s period in which they wore slicked hair and suits, they actually looked like the Everlys. They attain a similar vocal purity only siblings seem able to achieve, which gives their Country-flavored music a keening, aching quality. It makes the Topps a real double threat: Their audience can choke up, or choke with laughter.
Helmer Leanne Pooley tells the sisters’ life story — from their farm-girl days to their work on behalf of Kiwi gay rights; from their ’80s appearances at anti-Springbok rallies (protesting the tour of the rugby team from what was then apartheid South Africa) to their relationship with their parents, who dealt with their two daughters’ homosexuality (a son is gay, too) with total support. Without belaboring it, Pooley lays the evidence before us and lets us draw our own conclusion: that the indefatigably cheery and witty Topp Twins got that way through love.
Which they spread around, most generously through those comedic characterizations, which both puncture and massage various elements of New Zealand identity, but never without affection. The Topps are shown onstage in various incarnations, but they also re-create their various personae directly for Pooley’s camera, which then morphs them back into themselves. What we see are transformations worthy of world-class actresses, which the Topps certainly are, regardless of any denials they might issue — either as themselves, or as Belle and Bell Gingham, the hilarious Camp Mother and Camp Leader, or the Bowling Ladies.
Production values are top-shelf, notably the sound mix by Terry King, Chris Burt and Stefan Brough, and the lensing by Leon Narbey and Wayne Vinten.