A lot of pop culture Boston accents sound like the person speaking heard a cartoon version of President Kennedy from another room for one second, and was then instructed to “go bigger.”
When deployed correctly, as in the recent Spotlight, the accent becomes crucial mise-en-scène. In that film, set at The Boston Globe, Michael Keaton plays a Boston lifer who has the accent, while we meet many other residents who speak with varying degrees of subtlety. None of it jumps out as particularly effortful. On the flip side, there’s Jeff Bridges in Blown Away, Rob Morrow in Quiz Show, Julianne Moore in 30 Rock, and much of the non-Mark Wahlberg cast in The Departed. Accents like these try too hard to thrust you in the milieu of their surrounding movies, and instead pull you right out. A new fake trailer from Late Night with Seth Meyers, though, serves these kinds of films a dose of their own chowder.
Just in time for Oscar season, the Boston Accent video is a reminder of just how many films and shows inevitably make the window dressing of this dialect draw too much attention to itself. What the sketch does so well is articulate not only what Boston accents are intended to communicate, but the various subsets among them. There’s the politician accent, the police chief version, the townie, and so forth. Meyers also pinpoints specific words that are frequently deployed as authenticity signifiers but have lately congealed into cliches, namely ‘wicked’ and ‘pisser.’
In a video made around the release of Black Mass, the Johnny Depp-starring Whitey Bulger movie somehow not made by Ben Affleck, the Washington Post suggests that the trick to nailing the accent isn’t just dropping ‘r’s from one’s speech, but inserting them to connect words with soft vowel sounds. Hopefully not every actor figures this out, though, so we’ll still get the occasional laughably bad Boston accent well into the future.
Now if you’ll excuse us, Co.Create will just be parking our car in Harvard yard and setting it on fire forever.