Review: Do I Sound Gay?

Another link in an increasingly tiresome chain of navel-gazing think pieces posing as personal documentary.

Do I Sound Gay?
Photo: Sundance Selects

Do I Sound Gay? is another link in an increasingly tiresome chain of navel-gazing think pieces posing as personal documentary. The film’s director and subject is David Thorpe, a gay journalist who, while on a train to Fire Island, noticed that all of the men surrounding him spoke in a high-pitched, nasally voice, which Thorpe says “sounded like a braying pack of ninnies.” That revelation prompts this film, in which Thorpe takes to interviews with pedestrians and famous figures within the gay community alike to confront the “gay voice” stereotype and why Thorpe, along with other gay men, feels anxiety about the way he sounds.

Thorpe’s approach is less historical or experimental than staid and solipsistic, as his own biography, which includes growing up in South Carolina and not acknowledging his own homosexuality until reaching college, is dutifully presented as a series of facts and tidbits which are meant to substantiate the film’s interest in cultural norms regarding homosexual behavior and self-acceptance. The film supplements this core with interactions from Thorpe’s friends and family, whose testimony yields little urgency or tension, sans a briefly heated dispute between Thorpe and several of his close, Brooklyn-resident friends. These personal elements are further entrenched by pseudo-historical measures that are haphazardly assembled, as clips from Laura and various other classical Hollywood films are proffered as evidence for pop origins of the link between homosexuality and death. However, these points are given for policing purposes, as depictions are denigrated carte blanche, with no deeper examination of what underlies their presence or construction. Steadily, the film develops into a broader, less focused exposé on the ways mediated depiction breeds self-loathing if one is unable to fulfill fantasized expectations.

Any of these threads could sustain entire volumes of critical, scholarly, or journalistic interrogation, but Thorpe is disinterested in heading down a singular path of inquiry, which becomes rampantly apparent given the film’s worthless litany of celebrity soundbites and interview clips, as recognizable voices are deployed more for their immediate status than cogent insight. In a particularly revealing clip, Thorpe offers footage of himself waving and calling to Dan Savage during a pride parade; subsequently, the film cuts to Savage returning the gesture, as if Thorpe is simply seeking to confirm his cronyism. Such an instance is endemic of a film that only superficially engages its topic, preferring communal confirmation over more rigorous, troubled grapplings.

The film’s best moments feature Thorpe working with a voice coach, where instructions to refrain from lingering on S sounds and to speak with a flatter cadence seem almost accusatory rather than constructive. When Thorpe practices these suggestions on his own, the film glimpses an underlying anguish that persists within his psyche, despite more than two decades of being out of the closet. Nevertheless, Thorpe is content to discard these concerns by film’s end, despite never adequately addressing, much less resolving, meaningful parameters or courses of action. By falling back on rallying cries of “fearlessness” and blanket assertions of self-importance, Do I Sound Gay? belittles its own stated interest in understanding identity formation.

 Cast: David Thorpe, Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, Dan Savage, David Sedaris, George Takei  Director: David Thorpe  Distributor: Sundance Selects  Running Time: 77 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2014  Buy: Video

Clayton Dillard

Clayton Dillard is a lecturer in cinema at San Francisco State University.

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