Judge Brett Cullum typed this entire review without moving his lips.
Say hello to my little friends.
I have to admit the idea of a feature length documentary about a group of adults who play with dolls for a living sounded creepy even to me. Of course I knew Terry Fator from America's Got Talent, and I have to admit as a kid I used to try to do ventriloquism. Yes, I sat in a bathroom mirror and practiced not exploding my consonants with my lips by replacing "b"s with "d"s while I held onto a Charlie McCarthy from JC Penney. I'm not sure if anybody here at the Verdict knew that, but I suppose I always kept my puppets in the closet. That seems to be what most reasonable people do, and they don't admit that they enjoy puppets. Here is a flick all about five performers who proudly wrap felt around their wrists and take over stages all across the world. We're talking about church pulpits, school cafeterias, nursing home recreation areas, cruise ship lounges, and even Las Vegas hotels. Dumbstruck shows you a world you probably can't imagine, one that seems like a crazy magical comedy that just can't be real.
The five subjects include: Vegas act Terry Fator who was the winner of the second season of America's Got Talent, Kim Yeager a former beauty queen who struggles trying to take her career to the next level, Dan Horn a veteran who performs on cruise ships, Wilma Swartz who loves the art but is about to lose her house to tax debt, and finally fourteen year old Dylan Burdette who is just getting started learning how to make his dummy talk. They all vary widely in their amount of talent, but they do all share a passion for the puppets. The film works because these five souls believe in an elusive dream, and they fight and sacrifice for it. Their families throw their hands up in despair, yet each of the subjects keeps trudging on with their heart on their sleeve and a doll just past it.
On DVD we get a pretty good transfer. It is widescreen and largely clear without any compression artifacts. This is a simple straightforward talking heads documentary so there's not much to showcase in either the visual or audio department. You can choose either a simple stereo or full surround option, and both seem just fine to hear the dialogue.
Special features include three extra segments. In the first, Terry Fator shows us how his puppets work and explains a bit about his act. Next up is Willie Brown, who works the church circuit. He was not in the feature, but this includes his whole story about how he transitioned from club comic to religious entertainer. Finally we get a look at Roger and Eileen Carroll who are a father and daughter team living in a small town called Loomis. They are cat fanciers as well as puppet performers. Also included on the disc is a commentary featuring director Mark Goffman, his wife Lindsay Goffman who helped produce it, and their director of photography George Reasner. The discussion is a great companion to the film itself and well worth the listen. We learn a little more about why the project was made and how the subjects are viewed by the filmmakers.
Dumbstruck is a great little documentary about unlikely subjects who are trying to fashion careers out of gentle humor made with a puppet. Only one in a million will ever hit the big time like Terry Fator (who has a 100 million dollar contract with the Mirage hotel), but all of them are going to try their best to get there. It's a film about a dream, the kind that people cling to no matter how many people tell them they are silly to believe in it. Despite the silly premise it, has a huge heart.
Not guilty of anything other than maybe moving its lips a little too much.
It's charming, sweet, and hopeful.
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