September 18, 2008


Every year, right around Oscar season, I find myself annoyed by the onslaught of advertisements for accent-tinged films aiming for trophy gold. Coming soon: Blood Diamond! the promo screams, followed by a shot of a goateed Leo gallivanting over the Sierra Leonean countryside, yelling at poor Djimon Hounsou, "What if I helped you find your family?" Trouble is, I'm not thinking, Boy, this looks good, I'm thinking, Did Leo just pronounce "family as "femlee"? And that's when I start laughing.

Movie stars should never do accents. In theory, their purpose is to allow the actor to disappear into character. But when Scarlett Johansson pops up midway through The Prestige, her English lilt might as well be a giant red clown nose; you can't focus on anything else, because you're too conscious of the smoky, slightly Brooklyn timbre she's struggling to suppress. Even Meryl Streep - master thespian she is - can't quite pull it off. She's won Oscars, sure, but the only thing Polish about her accent in Out of Africa was the sausage it left me craving. But even that wasn't as offensive as fellow Oscar winner Hillary Swank's botched accent in Black Dahlia. Anyone who can hear her pronounce "Laguna" as "Lah-Goona" is probably impressed with the prime rib at HomeTown Buffet.

The only people who care about foreign accents are the actors, who want to believe themselves chameleons. Audiences don't give a damn. Nobody minded when Sean Connery burred his way through The Hunt for Red October as a "Russian" submarine captain. More recently, nobody flinched when Jack Nicholson did his usual schtick instead of adopting a Boston accent for The Departed.

Brad Pitt in The Devil's Own? Tom Cruise feigning Irish in Far and Away? Even the big dogs aren't immune. The day Shia decides to amp it up with his best Southern twang a la Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan is the day my tolerance level for such anarchy dies.

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