Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Philly Accent

 The only Oscar-nominated movie Matt Domino saw was Silver Linings Playbook, and he had one big issue with it.

Did you know that the Oscars are this Sunday Night? Oh, you read the Internet and watch TV. Right, I should have remembered.

Well, in that case, you probably know that Silver Linings Playbook  is nominated for awards in all of the major categories: Best Picture (25/1 odds), Best Director (David O. Russell at 14/1). Best Actor (Bradley Cooper at 40/1), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence at 4/7), Best Supporting Actor (Robert DeNiro at 13/2) and Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver at 50/1 odds).

It’s always difficult to tell which direction the Academy will vote (or how they will be bribed or swayed by the threat of violence) in a given year. Despite the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is an overwhelming favorite to win Best Actress, she may be undermined by even youngster Quvenzhane Wallis at the last minute. However, regardless of how the Academy votes, I know one award that Silver Linings Playbook will win—and that is my Academy Award for Lack of Philly Accents in a Motion Picture.

I grew up outside of Philadelphia and even though my mother and father moved our family back to Long Island when I was ten years old, my soul and my sporting allegiances have always been strongly tied to the City of Brotherly Love. Like Pat Solitano Jr. and his father Patrick Solitano, most of the heartbreak and joy in my life have been inextricably bound to the fates of the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. One of my first true memories of deep sadness was watching the Eagles lose to the Cowboys in the 1993 Divisional Playoffs.

Each year, my father and I try to take a break from our busy lives and attend some Philadelphia sporting event. I still love every Philly franchise, but my father doesn’t care about sports; he just wants to bring me a modicum of happiness. However, what we both revel in no matter our level of interest in the outcome of a given game, is the Philadelphia accent.

In recent years, with the evergreen popularity of the Wire, the Philly accent has taken a backseat to the much more glorified and “street poetic” Baltimore accent. Whereas the Bawl-mur accent is filled with a kind of Southern twang and down-home warmth, the Philly accent perfectly encapsulates that city and region’s endearing (some would say “abrasive”) passion and fire. Any word with a long “o” (coke, smoke, hoagie, doing, etc.) can become the stuff of insult or jeer—or war cry.

Now, Silver Linings Playbook is full of powerful and realistic performances. And that film does justice to the high level of fanaticism surrounding the Philadelphia sports franchises (as well as real sports fans in general). As Grantland’s Zach Baron put it, Silver Linings Playbook is the best sports movie in years because its about “how we live with sports in the context of our daily lives, how they organize all kinds of other life experiences that have nothing to do with sports, how the teams we like make us who we are in small but specific ways.” Pat Solitano’s rage, his father’s superstitious and quietly violent demeanor, and Tiffany Maxwell’s bruised soul are all infiltrated and haunted by the ghosts of decades of the struggling sports psyche of Philadelphia. All of that, in my opinion, is there in the film.

What isn’t there in the film? The accent! Even when Pat Solitano tailgates with his brother, his best friend and his therapist outside of Lincoln Financial Field there is not a single example of the Philadelphia accent! When said tailgating experience turns into an all-out brawl, none of the participants even utters one curse word with the spitfire that only the Philly faithful can truly conjure up. Sure,  New York has an iconic hostile accent, but no one truly delivers the phrase “Fuckin’ asshole” like an angry Eagles fan. In a movie that has performances that are terrific in many other levels, this lack of attention to realism is noticeable.

This all may seem like the picking of nits by one guy who’s weak heart seems to hold a strong nostalgia for the city of Philadelphia, warts and all. And that assessment wouldn’t be too far off. However, all I know is that a few years ago, my father and I went to the then Wachovia Center to watch the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament. We sat in the stands and watched high seeds beat up on lower seeds. There were no upsets. In front of us, though, we listened as two men watching the games—two real Philadelphians—pointed up at the rafters and said, with the thickest of Philly accents, “All the banners are gone, the Flyers banners, the Sixers banners, hell, even the Billy Joel concert banners are gone.”

Amid all of those long “o’s” and drawn out, yet hard syllables, my father and I smiled. The smile was an acknowledgment that we’d always love Philadelphia, whether or not the teams were doing well because there was something so much more to it; something lying deep in that accent. And all I’m saying is that Silver Linings Playbook—a film that captures, through its performances and its atmosphere, what its like to struggle in and around Philadelphia—should sound the part as well.

But, again, perhaps that’s just picking nits. It was a good movie and Argo is probably going to win Best Picture anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Good Domino,

    Wait, are you telling me that real Autistic and Bipolar people struggling in Philly are not incredibly good looking, really well manicured, have no Philly accent whatsoever, and don't spend their time dancing with amazingly beautiful people and talking to their super-supportive parents?

    This piece rocked. Thanks for Posting.