The Topp Twins (Review)

Enganing documentary looks at unique New Zealand singing duo

Jun 24, 2011 at 2:06 pm

This warm, engaging, entertaining and award-winning documentary concerns a New Zealand singing duo — Jools and Linda Topp — with a singularly unusual background. They are middle-aged twin sisters, lesbians and in their act mix rootsy, heartfelt Folk/Country material with the creation of comic characters. The effect is like Indigo Girls meets Ab Fab, and it has won them a large, devoted following in their native country. They even had a hit TV series. (The country’s Prime Minister is among those interviewed.) They also are political activists who have been active in support of gay rights and against apartheid and nuclear proliferation, and their admirers include Billy Bragg (also interviewed).

This film by Leanne Pooley benefits from access to lots of old footage. Especially fascinating are the glimpses of them as outgoing, charming farm girls and as buskers in the early 1980s with a Rock & Roll edge. Elegantly constructed as a testimonial, the film uses their current shows — and their introductions to their audience of songs — as a way to look back, as well as to introduce and interview key figures in their lives: parents, musicians and friends who have worked with them, their life partners. The film assumes their celebrity as a given, leaving American audiences to wonder how they became so popular. And the disparity between the broad humor and the direct music can be jarring. But there is an unexpected and very moving turn of events toward the end, which makes the film about far more than their career and music, but about the strength of their sisterly bond. Grade: B-plus

THE TOPP TWINS, presented by Cincinnati World Cinema, screens 6 p.m. June 26 and 7:30 p.m. June 28 at the Carnegie in Covington. For more information, call 859-957-3456.