Tuesday, September 11, 2012

#757. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore

Tag line: "Times like these call for a Big Lebowski"

Trivia: A lot of the Dude's clothes in the movie were Jeff Bridges's own clothes, including his Jellies sandals

I have to admit that my initial viewing of The Big Lebowski, which happened a couple of years after its release, left me lukewarm. “It’s got its moments”, I thought to myself, “but isn’t anything spectacular”. 

A second watch impressed me a little more, and suddenly I was laughing out loud. 

Now, with about a dozen viewings under my belt, I can say, without hesitation, that this is the funniest movie I have ever seen. The Big Lebowski is my all-time favorite comedy.

Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Bridges) is the victim of mistaken identity. A pair of thugs, believing he’s a famous millionaire who, quite coincidentally, is also named Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), break into The Dude’s house and demand payment for his wife’s outstanding debts. But The Dude has never been married, and tries to convince them they have the wrong guy. The two thugs eventually come to that same conclusion, but not before one of them urinates on The Dude’s favorite living room rug. 

Spurred on by his best friend and bowling partner, Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), The Dude pays a visit to the millionaire Lebowski, whose wife Bunny (Tara Ried) caused all the trouble in the first place, and demands that his soiled rug be replaced. Instead, The Dude finds himself tangled up in a kidnapping incident when Bunny is abducted by some Nihilists, who want a million dollars in exchange for her safe return. 

Recruited by the ‘other’ Lebowski’s personal assistant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman), The Dude - accompanied by Walter - sets out to deliver the ransom money and bring Mrs. Lebowski home. But when his good buddy starts taking control of the situation, it isn't long before The Dude is in some serious hot water.

The casting of Jeff Bridges as The Dude - a laid-back stoner with no job - was a stroke of genius. Bridges himself once said he was born to play The Dude, going so far as to admit he might have actually been the character had his life taken a few wrong turns. Bridges maintains The Dude’s easygoing attitude throughout the movie, even when things come crashing down around him. 

As for the role of his best friend Walter, it was tailor-made for John Goodman. The Coens had previously worked with Goodman on both Raising Arizona and Barton Fink, and were fully aware of what the actor could bring to a film. In direct contrast to The Dude, Walter Sobchak is an angry man, the kind of guy who draws a loaded gun during a bowling match. He is the exact opposite of The Dude, and is also the reason The Dude gets into so much trouble. Walter certainly means well, but there’s no denying that The Dude’s life would have been much quieter had he not told Walter about his wet rug. John Goodman is an actor who knows how to shake the comedy out of every scene, and he never fails to do so here.

Practically every sequence in The Big Lebowski is comedy gold, and the supporting cast (which includes Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Sam Elliott and Ben Gazzara) is just about perfect. It may have taken a while to sink in, but now that it has, I’m hooked on The Big Lebowski. I love this movie!


Robert M. Lindsey said...

My first viewing wasn't as lukewarm as yours, I liked it a lot, but I wasn't overwhelmed. After my second viewing though, I couldn't wait for my third, etc. One of the funniest movies ever, no doubt.

John said...

I saw this several years after it came out because its premise didn't appeal to me at its release. But once I saw it, I was hooked. From The Dude's cocktail of choice, to John Goodman always telling Steve Buscemi to "Shut the fuck up," to, well I could go on and on. Great cameo by Sam Elliott. One thing that kinda bugged me, though - what the hell did The Dude live on? Those White Russians, the bowling, and, yes, the rug - where did his money come from?

Dell said...

Love The Big Lebowski. Career defining performances for both Bridges and Goodman.

James Robert Smith said...

The first time I saw this movie I knew it was the funniest film I had ever seen. I laughed my ass off. Since that time I have seen no comedy come anywhere close to the level of humor, with the possible exception of O, BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? by the same brilliant team.

It is also, quite possibly, the most quotable movie in the history of American cinema.