Ventriloquy gets a hand in new doc

Mel Gibson in The Beaver isn’t the only dysfunctional person with his hand up a puppet these days. The new documentary Dumbstruck has five of them—and they’re all rather likable despite the way they tend to mess up their human relations in favor of bonding with the playthings that have become their lifeline and livelihood.

The ventriloquists are extremely varied—from entry level to hugely successful—but they all seem to follow a certain pattern:  they have all had loneliness issues. They find comfort in their puppets, even if they have constant one-upmanship debates with them. And they usually have to deal with disapproval from relatives who’d way prefer that they settle down with actual humans.

The film’s five clenched-mouthed stars are:

  • Kim, a 30-something whose plans to marry didn’t work out, so she returned to the world of her “puppet children,” to the utter dismay of her mother.

  • Dylan, a 13-year-old who’s painfully shy except when he hits the stage with his sassy puppet, Reggie. Up there, Dylan has a friend, even if he has to animate the friend into existence every second.

  • Danny, who was made fun of as a kid until he became popular thanks to his  dexterity with hand and larynx. Nowadays, Danny’s living his dream by playing luxurious cruises, but the time he spends away from his real children is wrecking his family. By the way, his main puppet is an old man whom he slaps around like crazy.

  • Wilma, a 6’ 5” woman who lives to entertain seniors. (She says she’d have them rolling in the aisles if they didn’t have walkers.) Wilma’s sister and brother don’t talk to her because they don’t approve of her ventriloquy, not to mention the suggestion that Wilma made some mysterious choice about a “medical condition” years ago. Whatever.

  • And Terry Fater, who scored on a TV competition show and now makes a fortune in Vegas. But there’s a dark side here too. When Terry started making it, dad told him he wasn’t actually good, he just had the ability to make people think he’s good. Fortunately, Terry now knows his worth, and so does his female puppet who sings “At Last.”

Anyway, now that you know the potential horror behind the art of ventriloquy, I want you to (A) Be extra nice next time such a person takes a stage; and (B) Throw out all your puppets right now!