The Big Lebowski (1998)

“You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude.”

Clare’s Rating: I wanted to come up with some kind of cheesy assed bowling metaphor here, but I respect you, so I won’t do that.

Clare’s Review: The Big Lebowski isn’t a movie to watch if you’re looking for a plot-driven story. I mean, Lord knows there’s more than enough plot to go around, but it’s much more satisfying if you walk into it just wanting to watch good acting, meet some interesting characters and get in a bunch of solid laughs along the way.

The Big Lebowski, much like its main character, Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski, isn’t in a big hurry to DO anything. It just sort of does its thing and interesting stuff happens along the way. It’s laid back. It’s fully reclined. To some people that means it’s boring. To others, it means it’s refreshingly different. I’ve been told that it gets better after you’ve watched it a few times and I have to agree. If you’ve only seen The Big Lebowski once, you probably missed the bigger picture. It’s not really ABOUT anything except how The Dude meanders through the crazy s**t that keeps happening around him. Besides, there are such a huge number of little details and interesting things happening around the actual action of the story, that even if you saw it once and liked it, you should see it again to really dig into the tiny morsels this movie is full of.

The story is extremely complicated and is more a series of episodic experiences than it is a full-on first “a”, then “b”, then “c” kind of story. The Dude is mistaken for another dude named Jeff Lebowski who happens to be a millionaire. One night two thugs break into The Dudes house looking for money that The Big Lebowski’s wife owes to a pornographer named Jackie Treehorn. By the time the thugs realize they’ve harassed the wrong dude, one of them has already urinated on The Dude’s prized rug that “really ties the room together”. The Dude realizes he should tell the other Lebowski about the thugs, things quickly get out of hand and he spends the rest of the movie doing his stoner best to figure out what the hell to do next. Along the way, there’s lots of funny dialogue, a huge slew of weird and wonderful characters to meet and a convoluted kidnapping scheme that never quite makes perfect sense. And I haven’t even told you about the bowling yet.

Like all other Coen brother flicks, The Big Lebowski is just on the other side of reality. The characters are believable, but not quite realistic, so it’s a waste of time to get bent out of shape wondering why everything seems a little off kilter. Jeff Bridges, who I happen to think is probably the most underrated actor alive, isn’t just portraying The Dude, he BECOMES the dude. It stuns me that he is able to so accurately portray the subtle nuances of a burned out, past his prime, ex-hippie just as easily and believably as he can play a visionary inventor (Tucker), a man from outer space (Starman), or the President of the United States (The Contender). I could go on for days about who amazing Jeff Bridges is, but that would leave little space for me to blather on about all the other mind blowingly good actors and performances in The Big Lebowski.

Of particular note, check out:

John Goodman as Walter, a Vietnam vet prone to sudden fits of rage, who loves bowling above all things and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Steve Buscemi as Donny, The Dude and Walter’s nondescript friend who can never quite figure out what the hell is going on. John Turturro as Jesus the purple pantsuit-wearing pedophile. Julianne Moore as Maude, the feminist painter with a deep love of sexual intercourse. Peter Stormare (Fargo), Flea (the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Torsten Voges as German Nihilists fond of ferrets, huge swords and always coordinated outfits and Sam Elliot as The Stranger, the narrator of this little tale who also happens to have the most fabulously perfect mustache ever recorded on film.

And before you go wandering off to the tidbits of trivia and pile of quotes down there, I’d like to take a moment of your time to tell you the following: Roger Deakins, the cinematographer on this and most other Coen brother’s films, is a craftsman of unsurpassed skill and an artist with an amazing capacity to transform the mundane (say for example, bowling) into something truly beautiful to behold. Bow down before Roger Deakins. He’s done miraculous things in other movies and pulls out all the stops in this one too. I salivate in appreciation for his mad genius talent. Ok, you may go now.

Justin’s Rating: One big fat raspberry

Justin’s Review: In my experience, which is vast as the ocean and as wise as a thousand-year old rhesus monkey, movies like this tend to split the population into civil war. Whenever you have a movie that relies more on its dialogue and sense of quirkiness than any actual plot or actions, you will take one of the following sides. Either you fall desperately in love with the film, or you have to call a crisis hotline to remind you of reasons to live. And it’s weird. I mean, some dialogue-bound flicks have burrowed deep down into my heart and shall never leave, while others just seem like a seventh grade English assignment gone awry. The Big Lebowski, in case you were wondering, bores every last stitch of clothing off my body (thank God for “Clothes In A Can”), and I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again.

I wish I had some magic formula that would be foolproof in determining if a “talkie” like this would be interesting or not in advance, but I’m afraid that it just falls to individual tastes, which can change with the season, weather, and dating interests. However, for the sake of determining if you’ll like The Big L in particular, I have come up with this simple test:

  • For each of the following Coen Brothers movies you like, add 1 (and for each you hated, subtract 1): Blood Simple, Crimewave, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • If you think Julianne Moore is attractive, add 5. If you think she is annoying, subtract 3.
  • If you like characters that seem to come out of a college English creative writing course – you know, the type that are quirky and yet totally unrealistic – add 4.
  • If you loathe characters that don’t belong in our universe, subtract 4.
  • If you say “dude” a lot, add 2.
  • If you don’t like stoner films, subtract 8.
  • Bowling: like it (add 3), hate it (subtract 3)?
  • If you don’t mind copious amounts of casual use of the F-word, add 1. If this somehow bothers you, subtract 3.
  • If you liked the TV show Roseanne, you suck. If you hated it, subtract 2.
  • If you like long, rambling Quentin Tarantino-style discussions about small, petty things, add 4. If these tend to make you yell out to the TV, “the plot’s getting away!”, subtract 4.

There you go. If you’re in the positive, then go see The Big Lebowski but stop sending me love letters. If you’re in the negative, then let’s do lunch.

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