Battle of the accents


Last weekend I watched Don Jon. This week I watched American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street.

My first reaction when I saw the first two movies was the same. It was: “OH NO MY EARS! WHAT IS THIS ACCENT!”

I’m talking about the kind of New York/New Jersey accent that sounds nasally, and annoying, that becomes even more so when the actors playing the characters are so convincing in their roles. Because then you are reminded of those people from Jersey Shore and OH NO! OUR EARS!

To be fair, that Scarlett Johansson sounds utterly convincing in that accent is a testament to her acting ability in Don Jon. I’ve always doubted her as an actress because I never saw her as anything brilliant in her movies. She was usually just plain solid, but not really good or great in my opinion, and I rather thought she was the weakest part in one of my favorite movies of all time (The Prestige). But she was quite stellar as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s girlfriend in Don Jon, especially because she managed to thoroughly sell that accent to me. So even if my ears were hurting, I still had to applaud her for it.

On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence attempting a similar accent and portraying a crazy controlling wife of a conman while using that accent in American Hustle didn’t quite work for me. I don’t know if it’s because she doesn’t fit the role or if it’s because her accent comes and goes mid-dialogue. What I do know is that she wasn’t portraying the same level of brilliance that she showed in her previous movie, so whatever award she’s nominated or won for this role might not be entirely deserving. I was relieved when the movie was finally over and I didn’t have to listen to her anymore. This makes me quite sad because I like Miss Lawrence. Just not in this movie and not in this role – definitely not with this accent.

Out of the three movies about modern America, The Wolf Of Wall Street is the most impressive. Leonardo DiCaprio is stellar in there and his co-star Margot Robbie, playing his character’s sexy blonde second wife Naomi, keeps up well enough with Leo. Naomi, too, has an accent and in her case, she’s more consistent in it than Rosalyn was. As a blonde wife giving her husband hell? Ms. Robbie does it more convincingly than J.Law too. Not because she’s the better actress but because her accent doesn’t come and go like J.Law did, which is even more impressive because she’s Australian.

My question is now: do people really talk like that in real life?

Some of my American friends convince me that they do, particularly people in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. So I guess these movies are not too far off from real life when portraying Americans.

I guess I needed to be told by these friends about the realness of the accent. Don Jon, American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street seem to be filled with American cultural stereotypes that I only get to see from movies and TV shows, never in real life. I don’t know any Americans that I’ve met in real life who speak like that. Even the one guy from the southern part of America that I met (a publisher rep) didn’t sound ‘Southern’ at all. Usually when people meet me and hear me speak English they go like “your accent is very American” and while I take that as a compliment (because this means all those years of learning English had definitely paid off!) I also sure as hope that they don’t mean “your accent reminds me of ridiculous girls from New York in movies”.

Thanks to all of these movies, though, I am now ready to leave USA in the movies behind. Three ‘accented’ movies are enough to make me want to cross the Atlantic and find my entertainment in Great Britain and the rest of Europe and the world. Studying culture from movies is great, but not when your ears are hurting. So, here’s to English/Italian/French/German/Japanese movies in my immediate future.


10 thoughts on “Battle of the accents

  1. “Studying culture from movies is great, but not when your ears are hurting.”

    Hahaha that’s true! Have you seen Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds? I LOVE that movie but I’d say no for Brad Pitt. I don’t know what kind of southern accent that speaks. Maybe it’s redneck or something. His accent and his pitch are just a pain in the ears.

    • I think Quentin Tarantino deliberately gave Pitt the worst SOuthern accent ever just to screw with the audience! But you have to admit, that accent won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I keep remembering it! Quick, give me Fassbender speaking German!

      • You’re not gonna forget it every time the worst accent issue comes up! Hahaha
        Either Fassbender speaking German or English is okay for me. I melt either way though I don’t know much about German accents.
        Oh I know! You should write about the best English accent imitation by American actors/actresses! I want to, but the ones who come to my mind are only Chloe Grace Moretz and Amy Adams…

        • Fassbender can speak in any accent and he sounds fine. His Southern accent was thoroughly convincing in 12 Years A Slave. If you haven’t seen this one, do consider it. Just beware of the violence.

          Laura Linney in Love, Actually has one of the best English accent by an American actress in any movie. And then Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones? I know there are a few guys with passable English accents, but don’t you think Brit actors usually have more convincing American accent than American actors having convincing Brit accents? 😮

          • Yeah I forgot Renee Zellweger! Laura Linney’s American?? That’s sick! I didn’t know that..

            I agree. The list could go on and on. Perhaps American’s considered relatively easy to imitate?
            But have you seen Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower? I think she’s trying too hard, but I just never had the heart to say it. I can still hear the traces of her English accent.

            • Yes, Ms. Linney is American. But she sounded very convincingly British in Love, Actually.

              I’d been thinking about this and I was wondering if the Middle-Earth English used in the LOTR and The Hobbit movies count as British English. Because if yes, then we can add Sean Astin and Elijah Wood to the list of Americans who can speak convincing British English, as well as Lee Pace. The spoken English in those movies (supposedly ‘Westron’) sounds British, but I don’t think it’s meant to be real British accent because their intonation and dialect are supposed to represent a fantasy world.

              I haven’t seen Perks or The Bling Ring, so I don’t know how Emma sounds like there. I think Daniel Radcliffe might be more successful in speaking ‘American’. He sounded great in Kill Your Darlings.

              • Perhaps BrE in real world is equivalent to the Westron in LOTR and The Hobbit movies? Or maybe Peter Jackson just assumed that Westron came close to BrE because Tolkien was English, so he made the cast speak in British accent…

                Yes he did (although I only saw the trailers)! KYD is one of my most anticipated films but I’m not sure if it will ever be released here.

                • I understand the reasoning but if I were to say “Elijah Wood and Sean Astin speak in believable British English accent”, I’m pretty sure some people would speak up and tell me, “that’s not BRITISH English. That’s MIDDLE-EARTH English.” 😛

                  Kill Your Darlings will never make it to Indonesia, I’m afraid. With a male/male sex scene like that, our only hope is DVD or torrent. Such a shame!

                  • There’s a male/male sex scene? Hm. When I saw the trailer, it looked like the gay relationship was not so obvious. The trailer implied that they were involved…but not in that way.
                    Still, I’m curious about the film, so I hope that it won’t be too difficult to get/rent a copy.

                  • Yes there is. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the trailer but the movie itself apparently contains a lot of it. And I translated a review of the movie in the latest edition of my magazine and it mentioned an explicit sex scene between DeHaan and Radcliffe. This movie is DEFINITELY not going to make it to Indonesian cinemas.

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