Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One Million and Twenty Dialects

I saw Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby last night, and I am perplexed. Why the accolades? Why the awards? Morgan Freeman is solid as usual, but has almost nothing to do but dispense bits of pithy wisdom. Hilary Swank is also good as Maggie (and has nice teeth for a boxer), but at times her supposed "southern Missouri" dialect doesn't ring true, and I'm just not sure her performance is Oscar-caliber. The film itself is predictable, overly ambitious, lazy and manipulative. Yes, even the big twist that none of the reviewers are talking about (and I won't either) was telegraphed, as was everything that followed it. And the film is ambitious and lazy at the same time because of subplots that take up too much time and go nowhere, and supporting characters (particularly Maggie's family) that are nothing more than walking stereotypes with dialect coaches. There are so many themes in the film that they trip over each other and start arguments--how does the Danger character's storyline contradict the message of Swank and Eastwood's final interaction, for instance? And how is it that the life of a boxing superstar is consistently depicted as taking place in a world with only two people in it? Eastwood's work with dialect has been inconsistent. In Mystic River I felt that he used it to give authenticity to characters with real complexity; this one falls more into the realm of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, where he seems to feel that an accent is all the more complexity some of the characters need. Witness Maggie's jailbird brother and his tattooed shitkicking posturing. Overall, I was completely underwhelmed with this movie.

In writing news, I sent out several stories this week, including one to the Twenty Epics antho that David Moles and Susan Marie Groppi are editing. It took a lot of work to cut what I had down to the desired 5000 words, but I think the final product is better for all the editing. It's a different sort of a piece than any I've sold thus far. You see, I'm from Minnesota (and when you read that typed by a Minnesotan, you have to read it like "Min-knee-sew-ta"), and my mother's uncles made the folks in Fargo sound like Oxford dons. This story was sort of a tribute to them, one in particular, and so I spent a lot of time working on the dialect. Some folks don't like dialect in their fiction, but it's a real thing, and I wanted to depict it as faithfully as I could. I spent some time watching the aforementioned Fargo while working on this story, and trying to hear my uncles speaking the sentences I was trying to write. What has always impressed me about the film is that I really think the Coens treat the characters with as much respect as those in any of their other films; at times they are made to look ridiculous, and if people are laughing at the accents, well, we all have them. It's not shorthand for "stupid," as it might be in another film, say, one mentioned above.

On the job front: Thanks for the well wishes. Nothing so far, but I'm still sending stuff out. Remarkable how like submitting stories it is, only harder.


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