Review of “Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls”

Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls is an utterly charming documentary that takes a doting look at its subject matter: yodeling, country-singing comedy duo the Topp Twins. With fantastic production values and a smart, fun approach to covering the pair, it’s a tremendously entertaining movie with moments of real inspiration tucked into its 90-minute running time.

Jools and Lynda Topp are lesbian twins with one of the most enduring – and beloved — comedy acts in their native New Zealand. They sing, they tell jokes, and they have a hilarious set of “characters” that get trotted out for their various performances, all of which are connected by a sort of joyful anarchy. Politically active and exceptionally popular, the Topps have successfully bridged the massive culture gap between their left-wing activism (not to mention their sexuality) and middle-of-the-road, mainstream culture.

The film examines this success – with an intimate look at the twins themselves. It’s framed around one very special performance – a sort of retrospective concert where all of the twins’ family and friends have gathered. Jools and Lynda welcome the audience to their inner circle, and proceed to tell their story, through song and off-the-cuff anecdotes.

Built from this framework is a collection of interviews with the twins and archival footage highlighting past performances and appearances. Once in awhile, we’re even treated to on-camera “interviews” with the Twins’ various characters and personas (all favorites from their show).

The film’s structure matches their act – a pleasant mish-mash of styles, all tied together with a genuine sense of fun. From the beginning, the twins talk about their early days, growing up on the farm and learning to play music. Shortly, the film whisks us away to early footage of the girls in their 20s, when their act started attracting real attention. Shots of the twins palling around on the farm and singing while sheep and dogs run around in the background go far in establishing their street (or should we say country?) cred – these are the down-home girls next door, make no mistake.

Thus begins the 30-or-so year journey that Untouchable Girls covers – from fun-loving girls with guitars to activists to variety show stars to cultural icons. After their humble beginnings, we see footage (amazing 1980s haircuts included) of the twin’s bringing their act to the street – literally – as they begin to support political causes like nuclear disarmament and, of course, gay rights.

The subject of sexuality comes up several times, in several contexts. The women talk about first coming out to their parents (who were, after all, conservative farmers), about their first girlfriends, and about their current partners. The elder Topps (Jools and Lynda’s Parents) are interviewed about their daughters’ sexuality, of which they’ve showed a slow but genuine acceptance. Both Jools and Lynda’s partners appear as well, recounting their own inductions into the Topp family.

Of course, most interesting are the interviews with the twins themselves. They seem put off by sexual politics and overly-PC assertions, preferring instead to say “it’s just about love.”

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