When you hear documentary you think, generally, that it’s going to be some depressing subject that will leave you feeling helpless and and saddened. Such is not the case with Dumbstruck a new film by Lindsey and Mark Goffman, which delves into the world of ventriloquism centered on the yearly vent haven convention, where the ventriloquists get a chance to no longer be outsiders but be around others who share and understand their passion. Focusing on five of the conventions attendees we get a chance to learn what drives their passion for such a socially rejected practice and see who they are as people. What we find is anything but what we expect. This is not a group of ‘nerds’ making bad jokes and living a fantasy where success is an option, this is a tight knit, caring group of real people with talent who have a chance at real stardom. Even more importantly is that this seems to be the only section of show business wherein the aim is NOT wealth and fame, but an honest want to see others happy, to get a laugh out of someone who needs it.
The filmmaker’s do an incredible job of taking something that most could find laughable and showing the truth that lies at its core told through the lives of their five subjects Wilma, Dan, Dylan, Kim, and Terry. Wilma, who’s story I found the most touching, is by outside eyes living a troubled life, with a missing daughter and a house close to foreclosure. This doesn’t seem to bother her all that much as she performs shows with her “friends” for nearly empty rooms of senior citizens, after the show she doesn’t complain about the emptiness, she applauds the fact that one person was having a very good time and making that persons day made it all worth while. In a separate scene her nephew, who accompanies Wilma to the convention, says that no one in the family is supportive of Wilma’s hobby but she was there for him when no one else was….the way this is presented nearly brought me to tears. Each subject highlights the filmmakers amazing ability to show a different side of the coin. Dylan, for instance, an 11 year old boy who’s very socially shy but becomes a different person when his act is on. He is dealing with being too young to be taken seriously and a father who wants his boy to be “normal” and play football and race motocross. Kim the oddest entry in the group is a conventionally beautiful woman…something you’d be surprised to see at any niche convention like this. Kim has always been a ventriloquist even winning pageants with that as her talent. Her family thinks it’s silly and wants her to get married and have kids, but her eyes are set on landing a spot on a cruise ship doing a regular show. Then you have Dan, he’s one of the top ventriloquists on the cruise ship circuit but has to weigh his success against the toll the time away is taking on his family back home. Finally we meet Terry, the superstar; winner of America’s got Talent and headliner at the Mirage in Vegas who shows he hasn’t gone Hollywood by coming to the convention and donating a sizeable check to the local ventriloquist museum. All in the entire movie is done wonderfully, really bringing you deep into the simple human need to be good at something and belong. Something also has to be said about the fact that these people are damn talented too. They aren’t just throwing their voices and moving a puppet, there’s a real inside look at what goes into making the puppets seem lifelike and the fact that even a technically perfect ventriloquist has to also be really funny to succeed. So not only are you doing the job of a comedian, but a puppeteer and impressionist as well.
All technical aspects aside, what I found with Dumbstruck was a group of people who truly care about each other and want to see each other succeed. Not that every man for himself that we are used to. I know it seems like an overstatement but seeing that there are truly good people like this in the world furthered my hope for humanity. We see so much of the bad, I implore you to allow yourself some of the good and see Dumbstruck. You will not be disappointed, it is full of genuine, honest, caring people….not self indulgent artists named Banksy or scenes of war and famine. Cheers to the filmmakers for bringing this wonderful world to light!
NOTE: If you're in the DC area make sure to catch Dumbstruck at the Landmark E St Cinema.