A blast of fun with a Kiwi sensibility and an activist beat, the formulaic but thoroughly enjoyable “The Topp Twins: The Untouchable Girls” succeeds foremost as a showcase for its ebullient title subjects: a pair of farm-raised lesbian twins who write and belt out country songs, yodel with abandon, perform sketches that lampoon both rural and society folk, and champion political causes that collide with the leanings of many of their fans.
Regarded as cultural icons in New Zealand, Jools and Lynda Topp remain virtually unknown on our shores, and while their brand of humor doesn’t entirely translate here, they make up for it with talent, enthusiasm and authenticity. This documentary captures those qualities and serves as a vital introduction to the pair.
Combining interviews, performance footage and home movies, director Leanne Pooley’s standard but colorful celebrity documentary shows the Topp sisters as farm children, young buskers, protest marchers whose issues include gay rights and Maori land rights, and big-time stage and TV stars.
Now in their 50s and living with respective partners Donna and Mary, Lynda and Jools remain true to their country roots — a factor that observers credit for their popularity among old-fashioned farm-towners and LGBT and progressive crowds.
Interviewees also cite the sisters’ inclusive treatment of the audience and positive spirit as key to the pair’s untouchability.
Folksinger Billy Bragg calls the Topps an “anarchic variety act” that has delivered forward-thinking political messages through the “most redneck” form of music.
Comedy writer Paul Horan marvels at the mainstream appeal of a duo whose style, on paper, spells “commercial death.”
Pooley, too, seems enamored, and her adulatory tone — are the sisters truly without detractors or personal flaws? — prevents the film from serving as an insightful character portrait.
It should also be noted that not all the sisters’ comic characters, who include the Two Kens and the Bowling Ladies, will tickle non-Kiwi funny bones.
But the undeniable joy that the Topps take in performing — along with their longtime refusal to shortchange their lesbian and political selves, and their deep commitment to each other (especially seen in the sequence involving Jools’ experience with breast cancer) — shines impressively, whether the two are sharing yodeling tips (“It’s all in the hip movement”) or singing a love song.
With Jools Topp, Lynda Topp
Directed by Leanne Pooley
Running time 1 hour 24 minutes
Note: The Topps are slated to appear at screenings at 7 and 9:45 p.m. today and 4:45 p.m. Sunday at the Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., San Francisco.