Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My opinion of Fargo, the film not the city, & a television series October 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:02 AM
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SO THEN, THERE, I watched that there Fargo movie just like I promised ya I would, albeit that promise was made, and this review written, months ago. Ya betcha.

But timing is everything. This past week the Academy Award winning writers of Fargo, native Minnesotans Joel and Ethan Coen, announced plans to executive produce an hour-long series for FX television loosely-based on Fargo. Perfect. Time to pull this review out of my draft box, update and publish it.

Since I don’t get FX, relying instead on a roof antenna to deliver several channels of programming to the single 1990s television in our house, I doubt I will ever view the new Fargo series. I have no idea what writer Noah Hawley, or the Coens, have planned for the small screen adaptation.

But, if the team can produce a show similar to the 1990s television series Northern Exposure, set in Alaska, I’d consider it a success. Honestly, I loved that geographic-centric show with strong local characters and could see the same premise working for Fargo.

That update given, let’s return to my opinion of the original Fargo film. To get you back on track, I’ll repeat the intro to this post:

So, then, there, I watched that there Fargo movie just like I promised ya I would, albeit that promise was made, and this review written, months ago. Ya betcha.

Honestly, people, I cannot write like I’m some northwoods hick. This is not how I talk either. Nor is this how Minnesotans or North Dakotans speak, although occasionally a “ja/ya” or “you bet” may slip into our conversations.

After watching the Coen brothers’ 1996 award-winning film for the second time, because I’ve visited the city of Fargo thrice already this year with the son now attending North Dakota State University, my negative opinion of the language in the movie has broadened. Now not only do I dislike the inaccurate accents and word usage, but I don’t like the bad language either. I apparently had forgotten about all the crude language written into the script.

Apparently I had also forgotten that seven—and I think I got that count right—characters are murdered. That’s a lot of bloodshed.

So what do I consider the film’s notable accuracies in depicting Minnesota?

The Coen brothers, who are native Minnesotans, got it right with the snowy highway scene, the scraping ice from the windshield, the buffet and the eggs for breakfast, the car needing a jump start and this weather phrase: “Gotta front comin’ in.”

But here’s what I really appreciate in Fargo: One of the main characters is a strong woman, Brainerd (Minnesota) Police Chief Marge Gunderson. She is gutsy and determined and she is married to an artist. That the Coens would write that key part for a woman impresses me, because, even in 2012, I am quite certain the number of women who head up police departments in Minnesota and North Dakota is relatively small.

I also like this line by Gunderson, spoken at the end of the movie as she ponders the loss of life, all because of money: “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?”

That statement is enough to redeem the movie for me.

But I’m still wondering why this film was titled Fargo. Sure, the opening scene takes place in Fargo. But that’s it. From there on in, it’s set in Minnesota. I suppose Brainerd doesn’t have the same ringing appeal or instant identity as Fargo.

And then I’m a bit confused by the discrepancies between the opening—which states that the events depicted in the film took place in Minnesota in 1987—and the afterward, in which viewers are told the film is based on incidents but not a true story. Which is it?

IF YOU’VE SEEN the movie Fargo, what’s your opinion of it?  Do you think it accurately depicts Minnesota and/or Minnesotans? Would you have chosen a different name for the film?

What do you think of plans for a television spin-off of Fargo? What type of content would you like to see in that proposed series? Would you watch it?

CLICK HERE to read a previous post I wrote about a woodchipper and movie memorabilia from the Fargo film on exhibit at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


35 Responses to “My opinion of Fargo, the film not the city, & a television series”

  1. Jackie Says:

    I have never seen Fargo, but I’m tempted, I really enjoyed your write up, with all the corny so-called minnesota talk, that kind of makes me want to see it all the more. Would it be worth my time?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, I’ve watched the movie twice, granted the second time because of my current connection to the city of Fargo via my son. Yes, I think you should watch it, ummmmm, because you’re a Minnesotan. Is that good enough reason?

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    Other than a very few ‘catch phrases’ peculiar to this neck of the woods(!), I did not find this movie as satisfying as the reviews indicated. A few “ya shure”s and “you betcha”s really didn’t redeem the inconsistencies (some of which you pointed out). This all sounds a bit harsh….and, perhaps a bit overstated, but I felt they could have done a bit better with it. And, you’re right, “Brainerd” doesn’t have near the ring that “Fargo” has!!!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It’s interesting to read the differing opinions on Fargo here. I really studied the movie when I watched it the second time, even taking notes, so I could give an accurate and detailed review. Not that I’m necessarily a qualified movie reviewer, but I guess that doesn’t matter so much as the opinion of a “regular” Minnesotan.

  3. Amy Says:

    I love Fargo. For all the bloodshed, there’s a tremendous amount of heart. When it came out on video, my brother was teaching high school in a small town 300 miles north of the Cities. He couldn’t rent it from the local video store, because the whole town was so incensed: “Uff da! We don’t talk like dat!” All in that exact accent. I bought him a copy for Christmas that year. 🙂

  4. Allan Landman Says:

    Audrey, Fargo does represent MN in the fact that it is the way we talk, at least in the Northern part of the state. We have several friends who talk exactly like the accents in Fargo. The accents come mainly from the Canadian/scandinavian mix of the two. Southern MN people have a tendency to talk like Iowan’s, and if you don’t believe me, listen to people from Iowa. I am not degrading any area or their accents, but there are accents in ALL parts of the USA, and every community within it’s boundries. My California Cousins love to hear me “talk” as they think my MN accent is so funny!!! Well I tell them I get a charge out of the way they “talk” Californian. We can not hear our accents as we all talk that way in a specific area. But when it is displayed in a movie like Fargo, some get ired and say, “we don’t talk that way”, when we do talk that way. This is America, and it is made of all sorts of languages, mingled, mangled, and disected. Fargo has put MN and ND on the map so to speak, and I love that. Fargo was written as a farce, and should be viewed with that in mind. I loved that movie, and watch it once in a great while just to see how we Minnesotan’s, live and TALK. I am glad you watched Fargo, and I think Fargo, the TV show will be a bomb! Always remember, the first time you hear a joke, it is funny, the next time not so funny, the third time, “I wish they would tell another joke, as this one is OLD. That is my take of making Fargo into a TV show. Now watch it be a success!!! “You got that right”!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Allan, thanks again for your thoughtful and insightful comments. And, yes, I’m a southern Minnesota girl so maybe I don’t know how they talk “up North.” I’m going to make a point of listening closely to “accents” the next time I’m in Fargo.

      I do love the uniqueness of dialects and language and that we’re not all a bunch of homogenized Americans.

  5. As a non-native Minnesotan, I think that Fargo is pretty great. (I confess to being a bit of a Cohen Brothers fan-boy)
    I’m not too sure if the accents are 100% authentic, but they don’t sound too far off to my Missouri ears. Given, accents can vary a lot within the same region, and I’ve noticed that the older and more rural the speaker, the stronger the regional dialect seems to be.
    I can hear the Minnesota accent in nearly everyone I’ve met in Minnesota, and I’m sure that they can hear a lot more Southern twang in my voice than I’ll ever admit to.

    I think it’s pretty interesting to compare “Fargo” with a newer Cohen brothers film “No Country for Old Men.”
    They both follow Sheriffs dealing with an increasingly violent world, and both are firmly rooted in their respective regions (NW Minnesota and West Texas respectively)
    Marge Gunderson’s line: “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?” could easily have been spoken by Ed Tom Bell from “No Country.”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ll need to check out “No Country for Old Men.” I admit to not being much of a film/movie buff. I’m trying to think of that more recent movie by the Coen brothers set in suburbia. Can’t think of the title, but I know I liked it. Readers, what am I trying to think of and can’t remember?

  6. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen “Fargo.” I mostly remember that it was quite bloody. Regional depictions can be so tricky. As a native Southerner, I find it hard to take the backward depictions of Southerners that so often appear in popular culture. Granted, it’s all in fun, but as Allan said above, the joke gets a bit old. When my mother joined the Navy around 1950, she actually had a girl from another part of the country express surprise that my mother wore shoes. Really?? I don’t like things that consistently reinforce negative stereotypes of any group of people whether it be race, region, or even dumb blonde jokes. Let’s be more creative, people!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I agree that reinforcing negative stereotypes is not a good thing. Thanks for your giving us your take as a native Southerner.

  7. PaulaS Says:

    I, like you, thought the accents were over-the-top and it was a lot of violence/blood. I have a hard time imagining the TV show, but since I don’t have a TV, I’m not too invested anyway. I also loved Marge and the last line, and even felt bad for the poor car dealer schmoe who got into the whole mess. There was a lot of realism that hit home too and that was likely the redeeming factor. Those particular scenes that resonated reminded me of my home town in N WI a lot. And, speaking of accents, I never thought I had one until I moved to Kansas and others pointed it out to me. Of course, I could hear THEIRS right away!

  8. Ha! – Great Review Post:) I like the movie, however; having lived in that area for 20+ years I can say I did not talk like that at all (maybe a you bet). Happy Tuesday:)

  9. Lanae Says:

    Ok, sister of mine, I can’t help myself. My nephews on my husband’s side are from southwestern Iowa. Since I have met them they tease me about my Fargo accent. (They don’t realize that they talk with a southern twang.) I even call my mother-in-law “Miss Betty” because of the region’s way of speech. Ya, even when we were in Yellowstone this September many people said ” You must be from MN or the Dakotas.” Ya betcha!!! Proud of it as I think we are the best state in the union. Where else can we get prairie, lots of trees, a BIG lake, wonderful cities and many climate changes (sometimes in the same day)? Oh, I forgot nice people who together love our state and better yet our country.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Excellent comments, sister dear.

      I always wondered why you called your mother-in-law Miss Betty. Now I know.

  10. “A Serious Man” is the film you’re looking for.
    I haven’t seen it yet, but I did just add it to my Netflix queue.

  11. Well, I’m going to join in on this discussion, and critique of the movie Fargo! We lived in Moorhead, MN from Dec of 1995 to Sept of 2001–more time then I cared to live “North” of the Metro! Of coarse Moorhead is right next to Fargo, ND–I worked in Fargo and actually had 2 babies born in Fargo! And yes, many people speak just like the characters in the movie! Our next door neighbor was one on them–Dale was a tried and true Nor’Dakota guy! “O’s” are one of the most North Dakota sounds most recongnizable as “an accent”… Working in retail–a floral shop, with 3 locations–I encountered lots of people, of all ages–and yep–they have the talk!

    I sometimes even catch myself sounding just a bit to “North Dakota” I picked up a bit–so to speak. My kids and husband catch it now and then and don’t miss the opportunity to rib me!

    Yes, the movie is a bit dark, but we are movie buffs at our house–and love the move! And the way they dress is also, pretty much the norm–believe it or not–you learn early on, not to skimp on Winter clothing–we all owned Trapper hats! If you were going to stay sane over the “long” Winter, you better figure out how to bundle up and get outside!

    Well, I might just have to get out the dvd of Fargo, and watch this weekend!

    Another movie, you may not of heard of–“Drop Dead Gorgeous”, stars Kirstie Alley….is a total mockery of MN–accents and all! The first time I saw it, I said it must have been produced by Wisconsin–to make fun of us! If you can’t find anything else to rent–grab this one!

    Thanks for the fun post, and it sure took me back to Nor Dakota–fur sure!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for sharing your insight as a former Fargo residents. These comments are so interesting. I never expected this post to generate such interest. Just goes to show, ja know.

  12. treadlemusic Says:

    After all this discussion……FARGO is on cable tonight! Popcorn is ready!!!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Perfect timing, except for the delay in getting your comment posted due to being on vacation. Sorry, D. But thanks for thinking to mention this.

  13. Neil Says:

    Audrey –

    I didn’t really care for this movie; as I recall, I thought the crime too hideous for the location. I couldn’t picture it happening in that setting. Yet, I can still see a lot of potential in a TV series. Police dramas are very popular. This would be a good setting in which to develop the relationships between the characters, which seems to be what makes for a good series. On the other hand, a weekly hard core crime in that setting might be a bit of a stretch. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with it… at least for those of you who get FX.

    When I watched the movie years ago, I thought that the accents were extremely exaggerated… until the next time that I returned to Minnesota! You have to leave MN for several years before you really begin to recognize it. The farther north you go, the more pronounced it becomes.

    That said, the actors didn’t get it quite right. Francis McDormand did okay, but the guy who played the car dealer put too much effort into it to sound realistic.

    Having been in many parts of the US, there’s obviously an accent for every region. They’re always thicker in the rural areas. I think that the accents are softer in the large cities because of the more transient population.

    It never ceases to amaze my wife at how quickly I slip back into speaking my native Minnesotan whenever we visit there. There are some things that you never forget!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Maybe that’s it: I need to leave Minnesota to realize we really do have accents.

      We don’t get FX, so I’ll never see Fargo the TV show.

  14. The one thing I remember about Fargo is that Colin told me that the scene where there supposed to be driving into The Cities is actually the view when driving OUT of The Cities…or something like that, I can’t remember. All I know is it reminded me that movies are not reality. They’re visions as the directors manipulate them. And really, that’s ok!

  15. MNMom Says:

    As much as I would like to say that we Minnesotans don’t talk that way, it would be a lie. I have a friend whose speech is identical to the strongest of the accents in the movie. In addition, the scene with the two young women at the bar from White Bear Lake saying “go Bears” was spot on. My daughter had a friend from WBL who looked just like these young women. Fried blonde hair and all. Fortunately, she matured into a lovely young woman!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      “Fried blonde hair….” that would seem accurate. I wonder, after reading these comments, if the strength of the Minnesota accent depends on where you grew up/live in our great state.

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