This will be short and quick, since I mostly enjoyed this very Soderberghian heist film, and am less interested in rewriting any part of it than pointing out an obvious flaw.
Tell me if you can spot the problem with this dialogue, spoken by Riley Keogh’s native West Virginian, Mellie Logan:
Jimmy: Yeah, I got off early, so I thought I’d take Sadie on over to her dance thing so you didn’t have to drive her.
Mellie: Well that’s great and all, you wanting to see your daughter dance and everything, but it was yesterday.
Purple Lady: Excuse you!
Mellie: I got her there fine, by the way. See, most people think if you’re gonna go to Charleston then, duh, you get on the 85 for Danville, then the I-19 to Charleston. Fifty-four miles. But being 4:00 p.m., I knew, not the best time of day to be on the road. And they’re still doing all that shoulder work on the I-19. Plus, then you got the sun right in your eyes for that whole stretch outside of Julian. So, yeah, I took the 85 to Danville, but then I hopped onto the 3. So instead of going up and over, I’m going over and then up. After that, it was just a straight shot on Daniel Boone Parkway all the way to Marmot.
See it yet? If you live anywhere other than the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Orange County, or San Diego, the mistake is obvious.
The use of the word “the” before referencing a major highway, freeway or interstate is a colloquialism specific to southern California. Thus, Interstate 405, a major freeway in L.A., is referred to as “the 405,” and Interstate 5 is “the 5.” A Los Angelino might say, in directing someone through the city, “Take the 405, to the 10, to the 5.” I have also occasionally, although far from uniformly, heard this colloquialism used in Arizona, presumably because of Arizona’s proximity to So Cal.
Conversely, in northern California, all “the”‘s are dropped from highway monikers. Here, we might say, “Take 101, to 85, to 280,” referencing the numbers of major highways like proper noun names, in much the same way as we refer to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) like a person – “I’m going to take BART to downtown.” I don’t know if this is as specific to northern California as overuse of the article qualifier is in Southern California, but it is one of the big language distinctions between the top and bottom halves of the state.
I’ve never visited West Virginia, so I don’t know how they talk about highways there. If I had to guess, they refer to them as I-19 (this is how their traffic reports read), rather than “the I-19” as Mellie does, and certainly not “the 3” or “the 85.”
Since these characters are supposed to be from West Virginia or North Carolina, the article qualified highway designation is comically out of line. I actually watched the movie in the company of a native North Carolinian, and my husband, a native Southern Californian. Our conversation from the viewing party went something like this:
Him: Rusty, guess what’s wrong with this dialogue.
Me: That West Virginian’s really a Los Angelino.
Her: Why do you always do that? Put “the” in front of everything?
Him: Why wouldn’t you put “the” in front of everything?
Her: It’s just so redundant.
Me: And stupid.
Her: That too.
Watching movies at our house is an interactive affair. For what it’s worth, she also says a lot of the accents sucked, in much the same way as they sucked in True Blood. Maybe the same dialect coach worked on both productions? We’ll never know.
Also, here’s a funny thing: IMBD lists the writer for this movie as the heretofore uncredited Rebecca Blunt. People quickly surmised that this name was a pseudonym, but it took awhile for them to settle on the actual responsible party. Current consensus is that Rebecca Blunt is really director Steven Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner. Although Ms. Asner has relatives in West Virginia, her Wikipedia page tells me she grew up in Arizona, before moving to Los Angeles to attend UCLA and, later, work for the E! network. Which explains why she probably didn’t think twice about her highway designations .
Ah, the internet – so full of rabbit holes.