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At the annual Vent Haven Convention in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky, ventriloquism capital of the world, director Mark Goffman discovers five extraordinary characters straight out of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. But in this delightful, it's-all-true documentary, the characters are real, and so are the emotional attachments that they have with their "dummies." Written by
Palm Springs International Film Festival
5 Ventriloquists show you just how hard ventriloquism can be
When I saw that Terry Fator was in this, I assumed it was a documentary on him, how he got started and how he found his claim to fame with America's Got Talent. But, it's even better than that. Yes, Terry is in it, but it's also got 4 other stories (some funny, some heart-breaking) of ventriloquists and wanna-be ventriloquists. I'm not a huge follower of ventriloquists, but with folks like Terry Fator and Jeff Dunham out there, it's getting to be popular again, so I decided to watch Dumbstruck.
The documentary starts out at the Vent Haven ConVENTion (aren't they clever?), held in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky. This year marks their 31st year. We get to see a little bit of the convention, what goes on there and some of the people you get to meet. But, enough about that for now -- the documentary chooses to follow five different performers and tells us a little bit about them and what get them started and whatnot. First, we have Kim Yeager. She's an Ohio beauty queen who mainly does safety talks with her puppets to school children. She's not married, has 2 dogs and her family wants her to cool it with the puppet business and settle down. Then there's Dylan, an 11-year-old kid who practices very hard and sequesters himself down in the basement to work on his routine and watch himself in the mirror to make sure his lips don't move. His family supports him, but I kind of got the feeling that his Dad would like to see him do something else...anything else. Next is Dan. Dan takes his puppets on cruises all over the World, he's a cruise-line ventriloquist. Noted as one of the best manipulators in the business (how he moves the puppet, nice, fluid, smooth movements, almost as if they were alive), he teaches classes and gives advice whenever and where ever he can. Up next is Wilma, who has had a rough go at ventriloquism. Her family has basically abandoned her because they don't approve, but all she wants to do is make people laugh. And, of course, there's Terry Fator -- famous for winning America's Got Talent and signing a $100 million dollar deal in Las Vegas. He's the "one in a million" and inspiration to puppeteers worldwide.
The documentary is often funny and at times, can be a bit sad. It's interesting enough to keep your mind on it the entire time and when you're nearing the end, you will be fully vested into the real-life characters and want to know what became of them (be sure to stick around for the credits, because that's when they fill you in on their progress). The only one that really caught me off-guard was Wilma's story. It seemed to be a bit out of place and it's really a downer when you start to think about it and her life. To have a family reject you because you practice ventriloquism is just absurd. I'm pleased with the outcome of her story, however. But, I still do find her a bit on the odd side (not that it's a bad thing). When Dan talks about having to leave and perform on the cruise ships, he tells us that sometimes he's gone for a good two months at a time. That can be rough on a family. Not seeing your wife or children for long periods of time. When Kim is interested in getting a cruise line job, Dan tells her just how difficult it can be sometimes. How insulting it must have been to Dan when she gasped, "How could I leave my dogs for 2 months? I don't know if I could do that." Um, hello? I think kids mean a bit more than doggies. Dylan's story was okay. It didn't seem to me that he had any type of confidence at all (off stage or on) in his performances. They show him up there, but I wondered why the director choose to follow him, because he hasn't quite developed a personality for this line of work just yet. He's extremely shy and very timid -- even when he gets on stage, he is very hard to hear and he seems especially nervous. You get a little bit more information on Terry Fator, even get to see him perform a little bit in a show back in his hometown and from his Vegas show.
It's a good view for the whole family -- good, clean fun. The kids were very interested in it and I have to say, me too. You will laugh at some of the puppetry antics but don't be surprised if you find yourself tearing up over the real-life characters as well. More reviews at www.soveryterry.com Final Grade: A-
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