Gay yodellers' compassionate politics

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (PG). Running time: 84 minutes. Director: Leanne Pooley. Starring: Jools Topp, Linda Topp

The Topp TwinsFor those not in the know, twin sisters Jools and Lynda Topp have been two of the biggest stars in New Zealand's comedy firmament for close to 20 years now. For openly gay yodelling country-and-western singers who've been firmly active on the left side of New Zealand politics since the start of their careers, it'd be easy to assume that mainstream success might have been a little difficult to come by.

If this enormously likeable documentary about the Twins is remotely accurate — and there's no reason to think it's not — the opposite was the case: warmly embraced by pretty much everyone thanks to their mix of toe-tapping music, compassionate politics and country girl straight-shooting, the Topps hit the ground running with their busking career in the early 1980s and never looked back. It doesn't hurt that they sing like angels either.

This documentary is built around a cabaret performance by the Twins in front of a small audience. This gives them the opportunity to perform (often with people important to them, whether creative inspirations or political cohorts) and talk a bit about their past between the more traditional documentary segments.

It's an approach that works well, creating a cosy atmosphere and giving a real sense of just how important and much-loved the Twins are. Everyone from John Clarke to Billy Bragg talks up their impact on New Zealand.

Over the years the Topps have developed a number of comedy characters, from the controlling Camp Mother and Camp Leader to the extremely blokey 'ladies men' Ken and Ken. These characters make their own separate appearances from time to time to provide some more insights into the Topp Twins.

The Twins' personal life also gets a look in, from their childhoods down on the farm and their parents' no-nonsense acceptance of their homosexuality (not that the extremely unpretentious Twins would have given their parents a whole lot of choice there) to their current partners and Jools' recent battle with cancer.

This documentary gets across time and again that the Twins have mastered the difficult art of being very funny without excluding anyone from the joke. Part sing-along, part concert, part comedy show, their act covers all the bases.

More important, the girls themselves are so solid, straightforward and open-hearted they're all but impossible not to like. Whether they're performing at blues festivals and agricultural (or 'A&R') shows, having their own television series or crawling across rural New Zealand in a tractor-drawn gypsy caravan putting on shows at every town they pass, everyone seems to love them.

After watching this warm-hearted, moving and very funny documentary, chances are you will too.

Anthony MorrisAnthony Morris is Forte magazine's film editor and The Big Issue's DVD editor. He also contributes reviews to The Geelong Times, Empire magazine, and websites WebWombat and The Vine.

Topic tags: The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (PG). Running time: 84 minutes. Director: Leanne Pooley. Starring:



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