The Big Lebowski | rel. 1998 | dir. Joel Coen
This film was June's Movie of the Month at the LAMB.
Like many, I thought the dark humor in last year's Best Picture winner, No Country For Old Men was superbly executed. The way writing and directing team Joel and Ethan Coen just seemed to know the perfect timing for some chuckles in the midst of all that blood and suspense came as a surprise, since I was unfamiliar with the two filmmakers' previous films.
So I'm rather glad I was able to see the Coens behind a full-fledged comedic romp in The Big Lebowski.
The film tells the story of Jeffrey Lebowski, nicknamed "The Dude" (Jeff Bridges) who lived in Los Angeles in the early nineties. One evening, The Dude comes home to find two men who informs him that his wife owes a large amount of debt to a man named Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) and he must pay it back because apparently, he's loaded enough to do so. The men tortures The Dude by putting his head in the toilet and even urinating on his precious rug. The funny thing is, The Dude doesn't have a wife and he's just an unemployed slacker. The men, noting The Dude's confusion and his poorly-kept home, realize that they probably have the wrong Jeffrey Lebowski on their hands, so they leave.
After thinking for some time at his favorite hang-out place--a vintage-styled bowling alley--The Dude takes up his friend Walter's (John Goodman) suggestion to find the "other" Jeffrey Lebowski and ask for some payment for the urinated rug. To The Dude's surprise, the other Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleton) is a wheelchair-bound Philanthrope who simply refuses to pay for the urinated rug. The other Lebowski is a bit of your stereotypical old millionaire jerk-face: He lives in a huge mansion with gigantic pool, is rude and suspicious to visitors like The Dude, has a yes-man, Brandt, who just worships him (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a seemingly slutty young trophy wife, Bunny (Tara Reid), and gorgeous rugs that The Dude takes no shame in stealing. Just one rug probably wouldn't hurt anybody...
The plot of the film really starts crackling when Bunny is kidnapped and the millionaire Lebowski asks The Dude to act as a courier to deliver the million in ransom. Mayhem ensues; mayhem concerning a case of underwear, a rug of sentimental value, pornography, nihilists, a shattered new (and old) car, green nail polish, a pedophile, bowling--just to name a few. But those are just ingredients that fuel this original crime story.
The Big Lebowski has an incredible cast, especially Bridges in a very likable performance as The Dude. Although I often thought the guy needed to take more baths, actually do his laundry, and get a job (but loved the shades), I liked him a whole lot and rooted for him all the way. I loved Goodman's performance as The Dude's loyal but freakishly unstable sidekick who is fearless when it comes to waving a gun around in a public bowling alley or shattering someone's brand new car (a scene that got my laughing so hard that I had tears in my eyes--and that's rare). I enjoyed Huddleton and Hoffman, who often stumbles off to the sidelines but are wholly deserving of attention when they are present on-screen.
The rest of the supporting cast deliver lovely performances as well, despite that their characters come off as rather uninteresting. Julianne Moore plays Maude Lebowski, the millionaire's daughter who has an idea of her father's tricks. In her signature red hair, with a Uma Thurman a la Pulp Fiction kind of feel, Moore knows how to hold the screen like a classic film noir femme fetale with a modern kick, despite her poorly-developed character. Steven Buscemi, who plays The Dude and Walter's charmingly innocent bowling buddy, Donny in the film proves that he's always a rewarding addition to a strong cast--again, despite the fact that the character itself brings little to the movie.
The bowling alley scenes are full of rambling pointlessness. Some of the dialogue between the characters feel like the Coens got too caught up in their own quirky universe that they must reveal every single meaningless detail that adds nothing to the plot or the film's entertainment value. But the bowling alley scenes are brightened up by John Turturro in a small but interesting role as a rival bowler named Jesus--and yes, he is very funny. A subplot--if I can call it that--between The Dude and Maude feels rather undeveloped and sloppy compared to the cleverness of the rest of the film. The narration by The Stranger (Sam Elliott) isn't very necessary either.
But the rest of the film is clever enough. The dream sequences adds a bit of flair to the crazy mayhem, although the flying scenes are cheesy as hell. But they are entertaining and wonderfully choreographed, especially the the last one with The Dude bowling with Maude. I found the weirdness of it all very refreshing.
The film sure does end abruptly, though. But life goes on, I suppose.
Despite its minor flaws, I did laugh very much throughout The Big Lebowski and was engaged in the plot enough to care about the fate of the characters. I guess in that way, the Coens fulfilled their purpose.