Sunday 1 March 2020

Nerd Church - St. David's Day Special! Let's Talk Robert Downey Jr as Dolittle!

Robert Downey Jr's performance as Dolittle is amazing. And he does it with a Welsh accent.

...I think it's fair to say, though, that the accent has had a mixed response.

And since today is St. David's day - and I never lose a chance to talk about Wales and being Welsh - what better time to discuss it?!

'St. David's Day Special! Let's Talk Robert Downey Jr as Dolittle!' with a large daffodil on the left-hand side

I loved this film in general - it's so random and so fun and so amazing! 

...But I don't think the American market got it.

I think RDJ has been hanging around with British people too much, cos the reviews from Americans that I've seen are like... you didn't get this at all, did you?

And it didn't do all that well financially in the US. But, as I keep telling people, the US is actually not the centre of the known universe. Shocking, I know. This film is doing well internationally, my dear Americans.

Mind you, I don't think many critics liked it. But they can (respectively) go stick their snobby pretentiousness where the sun don't shine!

You know the great thing about Dolittle? It's good - it's simply good.

It's good and fun and sweet and big-stakes but small-stakes, and it has Robert Downey Junior using a Welsh accent!

Choosing a Welsh accent isn't something actors do. 

(Except Bill Nighy occasionally, because studios think they have to hire him if they want a Welsh guy...? I don't know why, he's improved but... it tends to be a li'l caricature-y.)

In fact, most Welsh actors - Michael Sheen, Catherine Zeta Jones, Taron Egerton, Iwan Rheon, Rhys Ifans, Ioan Grufudd, etc. - end up flattening and Anglicising/Americanising their accents in a lot of parts.

(Ironically, Michael Sheen is playing an English dude in this film.)

One criticism of RDJ's accent that I've seen, and that I hate, is that it's 'stupid.' The thing is... the accent is accurate. (Imho.)

And our accents get described as 'stupid' - we get described as 'stupid' - unless we make ourselves sound English.

So a smart - in fact, a genius - character, with a distinctively Welsh accent? When so often we are described as being, essentially, a cultural wasteland? THANK YOU!

Dolittle (Robert Downey Junior) riding an ostrich and waving his hat
Via Giphy

And yes, Downey Jr's accent does shift, geographically, from place to place. But there's a reason for that.

See, there isn't one Welsh accent - hell, there's not even one South Welsh accent. It can literally vary from town to town.

And people who have moved around then tend to end up with a mixed accent.

Lord knows, Dolittle is supposed to've moved all over the world. I'd be more worried if his accent wasn't a little mixed-up.

I've only ever been as far as England, and that was just to visit, but my accent is mixed from living in two places in Wales, and having family in several other places.

In fact, I used to get picked on because I had a different accent to that other kids when I was in primary school.

It's a malleable accent. I'd expect it to move locations a little!

One thing that I did find hilarious, though, was that part of the inflection Downey Junior uses reminded me of a little old man in his 70s, sitting by the fire, and complaining about the world.

He doesn't have so much of a rise-and-fall to his emphasis as he should, in places, which makes him sound older.

He's lost some of the sing-song (- possibly because American accents aren't sing-song, possibly because he was told to, I dunno.)

We're surprisingly close to some types of Indian accent, actually.

One thing I would say to any actor wanting to do a Welsh accent is this: do it right.

I don't mean 'make sure that the inflections etc. are spot on' - no, what I mean is, if you base your character on a 19th Century man from Llantrisant, you need to act like a Welsh person.

(...and not an upper-class Anglicised Welsh person.)

Wenglish, in the South, is more prevalent than 'posh' English, or than first-language Welsh. 

I speak Wenglish, and I'm from Glamorgan - the historic county in the South which Llantrisant is in.

(...and it's the county Michael Sheen is from - though a Port Talbot accent like his is always gonna be distinctive. See? Varies town to town.)

Plus, a Welshman living in England isn't gonna be speaking Cymraeg 24/7 - what he is gonna be doing is saying 'in a minute now,' 'boyo,' 'twtty down' and 'ych y fi.'

Yoshi the polar bear: This is gonna be good
Via Giphy

What really impressed me about Downey Jr's performance, is that he acts like a Welshman, without being stereotypical - which is so common when non-Welsh people try to be Welsh.

Like - 'boyo.'

Boyo, in case you don't know, is way of referring to someone in a slightly-jokey, banterish, kind of way, that is still endearing.

(We use terms of endearment a lot as part of natural speech in Wales - we just like people, ok? If I call you darling, love, dear, etc. I am NOT being rude - I'm actually being polite!)

It's now a little old-fashioned 'cept in parts of the Valleys, where it's still used sometimes.

When non-Welsh people try to use it? 

It usually comes across as a) over-emphasised, b) mocking (playing into the 'stupid Welsh' stereotype again,) or c) Irish (they're both Celtic accents, and sometimes people over-shoot Wales and end up in the Irish sea.)

When Downey Junior did it? Spot on. A casual part of speech used naturally, not in an attention-seeking way.

That's not to say that all Welsh people think Downey Junior's accent was any good.

Plenty of people didn't think he did that well (although, most people are quite pleased he tried it, tbh.)

Me, though? I think it was blummin' tidy, and I hope this i'n't the last time we see it!

Happy St. David's Day/Dydd Gลตyl Dewi Sant Hapus!

Have you seen Dolittle?
What do you think of RDJ's accent?
Talk to me! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ’ฌ

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  1. I really want to see Dolittle just because of the animals, lol. I am a sucker for animal movies! I’m glad you found his accent to be authentic. I definitely think that American audiences sometimes need to understand that movies are not always made just to appease their demographic.

    1. The animals are great! (I love animal movies too!)

      Let me know what you think if/when you see Dolittle! :) <3

  2. I haven't heard of this but I'm glad to hear RDJ did well with it! And as someone who thinks Wales sounds fascinating (and the UK in general) this was interesting to know! :)

    1. Wales *is* fascinating, obv. ;) we don't really know how fascinating we are - we're taught so little of our own history unless it has a bearing on England or the UK as a whole.

      Hope you like this film if you end up seeing it! :)

  3. Awww it’s so neat to see you raving about Dr Doolittle and Downey’s accent! I feel like I’m always loving on books that others didn’t love and hating on books others adored. It’s great too learn I’m not the only one who does that. I still need to see the movie. I never seem to get out to the movies, it’s always the library for me.

    1. Thanks. I think sometimes people feel weird about going against the popular view of things. (That's never stopped me though!)

      I think Dolittle has generally been better received in the UK, and internationally, than it was in the US though! :)


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