Be Your Own Self: The Lessons Of 'Do I Sound Gay?' And 'Tangerine' Do I Sound Gay? follows a documentarian as he delves into his voice and the stereotypes associated with it, while Tangerine delivers a cinematic portrait of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles.
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Be Your Own Self: The Lessons Of 'Do I Sound Gay?' And 'Tangerine'

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Be Your Own Self: The Lessons Of 'Do I Sound Gay?' And 'Tangerine'

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Movie Reviews

Be Your Own Self: The Lessons Of 'Do I Sound Gay?' And 'Tangerine'

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Some movie titles tell you exactly what the movie's going to be about. Others don't. The new documentary, "Do I Sound Gay?" falls into the first category. The comedy "Tangerine," which has nothing to do with citrus, falls into the latter. Our critic Bob Mondello caught both.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Do I sound gay? Really, do I? I think I do. But if I do, what does that mean exactly, and should I care? That's more or less the starting point for documentarian David Thorpe who's fine with being but less fine with sounding gay. He begins his movie by clearing his throat...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO I SOUND GAY?")

DAVID THORPE: (Clearing throat).

MONDELLO: ...And reading the opening credits.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO I SOUND GAY?")

THORPE: Impact Partners presents aloud a ThinkThorpe, Little Punk production, a film by David Thorpe.

MONDELLO: Then he poses the title question to folks in the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO I SOUND GAY?")

THORPE: Do I sound gay?

MONDELLO: And they tell him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO I SOUND GAY?")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes, I think you do sound gay. Not as much as I do, but...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No, in Francais, no. In English, I don't know (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yes.

MONDELLO: Having established that people think he does sound gay, he then sets out not just to change the way he sounds, but to understand why he wants to change it - a quest that takes him to academics, voice coaches, psychologists, and columnist and gay activist, Dan Savage.

DAN SAVAGE: A lot of gay men are self-conscious about sounding gay because we were persecuted for that when we were young. When you're young and closeted and trying to pass, you police yourself for evidence that might betray you.

MONDELLO: So there are stereotypes to avoid, but that doesn't say where the stereotypes come from or why they're negative. A film historian posits that the pop culture cues are everywhere - in Disney villains, say.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PETER PAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Capt. Hook) Peter Pan will be blasted out of Neverland.

MONDELLO: There was this is "Peter Pan," and it kind of got carried across to "The Jungle Book."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE JUNGLE BOOK")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Shere Khan) I thought perhaps you were entertaining someone up there in your coils.

MONDELLO: Not to mention Jafar in "Aladdin."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALADDIN")

JONATHAN FREEMAN: (As Jafar) Perhaps I can divine a solution to this thorny problem.

MONDELLO: Scar in "The Lion King."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LION KING")

JEREMY IRONS: (As Scar) Oh, I shall practice my curtsy.

MONDELLO: And the list goes on.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: If you think of very, very young children, you know, they could be growing up with the idea that real evil or villainy can be connoted by a gay man's voice.

MONDELLO: Thorpe doesn't stop there. He breezes through other influences - super 8 films of his own childhood and visits to a speech therapist. In the process, he learns to alter his voice and to question the notion that that could ever be a good thing, and ends up presenting a light, entertaining argument for being your own self - whatever you sound like.

One person who does not need to hear that message is the heroine of "Tangerine," Sin-Dee Rella, the transgender LA prostitute who is going to be her own self, no matter what anyone thinks, in this micro-budget dramedy. How micro-budget is it? We'll come back to that. But first, meet Sin-Dee on her first day back on the street after a month in the slammer as she greets her trans friend, Alexandra, in their favorite doughnut shop.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TANGERINE")

KITANA KIKI RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Merry Christmas eve, [expletive].

MONDELLO: She plunks down a celebratory doughnut with extra sprinkles.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TANGERINE")

MYA TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) Are we supposed to share it?

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Yes, we're supposed to share it. I'm broke. (Laughter).

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) How have you been?

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) The estrogen has been kicking in. My body looks good.

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) Oh, honey.

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) So I got some good news to tell you.

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) What?

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) I've been keeping a secret about me and Chester.

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) I know what it is. You're breaking up with him? Thank God - because honey, if he going to be cheating on you like that...

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Wait - whoa, whoa, whoa. What?

MONDELLO: Cat out of bag, and the film's barely a minute old. When Sin-Dee discovers that her rival is a biological woman, she goes uncharacteristically silent for a moment and then smiles to herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TANGERINE")

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra) What are you plotting?

MONDELLO: And they're off. Director Sean Baker offers up a largely plot-less but seriously busy Christmas Eve on the fringes of LA's sex industry. A bargain-basement tour in many ways, but also an innovative one. Baker shot "Tangerine" entirely on iPhone 5's fitted-out with anamorphic lenses so the images would have a widescreen look. The result is grainy but perfectly cinematic. And shooting with iPhones lets the director keep up with his characters as they race from brothel to doughnut shop, have sex with johns while going through a car wash, humiliate unfaithful boyfriends and support each other when the rest of the world looks askance - which it almost always does. Sin-Dee, for instance, dragging her biological woman rival by the hair to a nearly-empty bar where her pal, Alexandra, has gotten a bartender to let her sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TANGERINE")

TAYLOR: (As Alexandra, singing).

MONDELLO: Because humiliating Chester is just payback. Behind that tinsel-draped microphone, Alexandra is living her dream for a night. And say what you will about Sin-Dee, she knows what's important.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TANGERINE")

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Yeah.

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TANGERINE")

RODRIGUEZ: (As Sin-Dee) Clap. Clap for her. Yeah, girl, that's right. She did that. Yes, she did that.

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