David Thorpe tells us he got the idea for his documentary when he was riding a train from his home in New York to Fire Island. Surrounded by gay men, Thorpe was struck by the sound of the voices he heard around him.
Being gay himself, he wondered: “Do I really sound like that?” He quickly found the answer to be “yes,” and then decided the idea of a “gay voice” — how and why such a thing exists — might make a good subject for a personal-essay film.
There’s an irony here, which is that so many of the practitioners of the first-person documentary, from Michael Moore to Morgan Spurlock, seem to be in love with the sound of their own voices. Thorpe insists he isn’t happy with his. But he sure does talk a lot.
“Do I Sound Gay?” divides its 77-minute running time between tracking Thorpe’s own voice-related worries and an examination of how the “gay voice” might have come into existence. On the latter point, Thorpe interviews researchers who have studied this phenomenon; they offer theories that sound just a little speculative.
There are clips of lisping movie characters, done without much depth (demerits for showing the ending of “Laura,” by the way). We also note 60s TV personalities like Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly, whose waspish delivery made them stand out from straight comedians.
Along with the academics, Thorpe is canny enough to seek out celebrities to provide sound bites for his theme: Margaret Cho, George Takei, Dan Savage. Some of the most thoughtful comments on that front come from writer David Sedaris, whose one-liners (he notes that a grade school speech-therapy class he took could have been called “Future Homosexuals of America”) don’t obscure his serious thoughts about what happens to kids who sound different.
There are enough amusing observations and anecdotes to make the film diverting. Thorpe’s own adventure in speech therapy — he practices methods to de-gay his delivery — is less convincing, and looks suspiciously like something a documentary filmmaker would do to give his movie a through-line.
The comments from showbiz speech therapists, about why people over-enunciate or draw out their “s”s, are actually interesting. Why such therapists exist has to do with their clients’ self-esteem issues and societal demands to fit in.
Which reminds us of the subtext of this movie: Same-sex couples can get married, but some of them still feel pressured to deepen their voices when they say “I do.”
“Do I Sound Gay?” (2 stars)
So-so documentary in which filmmaker David Thorpe wonders whether he speaks in a “gay voice,” and whether he wants to change that. Some interesting theories are offered, although Thorpe’s own story is not always arresting.
Rating: Not rated; probably R for language
Showing: Northwest Film Forum