Saturday, June 28, 2008

"That rug really tied the room together."

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.

Rating: 7.5/10


  1. I loved Julianne Moore in this. I agree that Maude isn't necessarily the most fully developed character, but she cracks me up. The first time the Dude meets her is comedic gold.

  2. I like to call this movie "Coens for Beginners".

    I agree with you that while the dialogue sometimes feels like someone liking the sound of their own voice, good thing most of what that voice says is pretty damend funny.

    For me the whole movie was worthwhile if only to hear Turturro say "Don't fuck with the Jesus".

    (BTW - I'm pretty new to L.A.M.B. - hi!)

  3. Catherine, I completely agree with you about Maude and The Dude's first interaction. The way Moore effortlessly delivers her lines is really funny. I don't think there is another actress who could have stretched Maude the way Moore did.

    Hatter, I did find some of the dialogue pretty funny but they just went on and on until the conversation loses its comedic steam.

    But I must agree with you on Turturro. Every time he's on-screen, it's genius. Turturro is an extremely underrated and underused actor.

    And welcome to the LAMB! Thanks for dropping by.

  4. I don't think the bowling alley scenes are worthless. All of their conversations either relate to the kidnapping or come back to affect it from Walter's sick Cynthia obsession to the Dude's encounter with the Stranger. And do you think the movie can do without Jesus? Those are just well written pieces to allow us more time to enjoy with our characters.

    A few burgers, a few beers, a few laughs... our fucking troubles are over.

  5. Michael, I liked several of the bowling alley scenes and I thought Jesus was a great addition to the film. But some conversations were unmemorable and a waste of time. Sure, some of the dialogue added to the characters, but some I could have done without.

    And like I stated in my review, I didn't care much for The Stranger.


    I guess there is no sophisticated or suave way to say it :)

    Awesome write up.

  7. Nick, I don't exactly share the same enthusiasm you have for the film, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

    Glad you liked the write-up!

  8. Marcy---I wanted to address a few things you touched on.

    I think Donny's whole role in the film is to give The Dude and Walter some common ground. It has been said that they have a sort of family dynamic going on, with The Dude as the wife, Walter as the domineering father and Donny as the son. It has also been debated that Donny isn't actually real, but a figment of The Dude and Walters subconcious. He is a person totally stripped of personality, but a really good bowler(Always bowling strikes except once). This also goes back to him being Walter and The Dudes common ground, since their common ground is bowling, maybe he is their desire to be a better bowler, or better people. Another thing that might reinforce this is the fact that we never see The Dude or Walter actually bowl.

    As for the bowling scenes being pointless, I can agree to some extent. They do offer us glimspes of these characters and humor though. Which is really what a good comedy should do. The bowling alley is like the place where they can regroup.

    Another really clever, nicely written review though. =)

  9. Shawn, thanks for sharing your interesting views on Donny. I like the Donny-isn't-real theory because that seems very likely.

    I think what makes Donny a somewhat memorable character is Steven Buscemi, who is so charming and innocent in the part, that you just can't help but like his character.

    Some of the bowling scenes added insight to the characters, but sometimes they just feel very self-contained. There is some witty dialogue splattered here and there, but it never seems necessary to me.

    I'm glad you liked the review!

  10. The bowling alley scenes are what this movie is about. The "plot" is not. The point I always try to get at with people is to think about everything Walter ever says. He's always right. Not for the reasons he thinks he is, but in the end, everything he says is correct. It's an astounding piece of writing. As for the "underdeveloped" points (Maude, et al), it makes much more sense when you know THE BIG LEBOWSKI's main influence is Raymond Chandler's THE BIG SLEEP and the John Huston/Humphrey Bogart film also based on that story. This is probably the Coens' best film in a career full of great ones. Watch it, oh, 80 or so more times and you'll discover something new and intricate each and every single time.

  11. The bowling alley scenes are what this movie is about. The "plot" is not. The point I always try to get at with people is to think about everything Walter ever says. He's always right. Not for the reasons he thinks he is, but in the end, everything he says is correct.

    I don't get it, Matt. So the film isn't really about the "plot," but everything that Walter says? Eh, you might have to make that point a bit clearer. But you did make an interesting point about Walter, though. He is always right, but I just thought that was part of his character.

    So in order to fully enjoy this film, I have to watch another film? Well, I've always wanted to watch The Big Sleep anyway.

    I do plan on re-watching The Big Lebowski someday, perhaps after I see The Big Sleep. I still need to see more from the Coens Bros. But from what I've seen, The Big Lebowski definitely engaged me more than No Country For Old Men did.

  12. I don't think it's necessary to see THE BIG SLEEP, it just helps a lot to know that the incoherence of the plot makes a lot more sense given the nature of its influence, and the fact that, everything is indeed in its right place (though not after only once through)...

    The Coens are indeed the eclectic bunch, and I don't expect everyone to love all of their films, but five of them are bona-fide genius in a bottle: MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, FARGO, and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. For non-bottled entries, everything else works, minus the horrible THE LADYKILLERS and the not-quite-as-horrible-as-that INTOLERABLE CRUELTY.