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My original Big Lebowski review, published March 31, 1998

(written after seeing the film in a mostly empty Richland, Wash. screening room:)

You know, this film should be seen twice before being reviewed – ’cause, like any other self-respecting Coen Brothers film, it leaves you going “now what the heck just happened?”

You see, The Big Lebowski is shot through a haze o’ pot smoke, the way a bowler/drug addict calling himself “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges, a smart actor who’s great here as a stoner) sees his world. The plot makes little sense, events don’t flow, characters come and go without much obvious purpose (especially one sick puppy of a bowler played by John Turturro) – but despite all the bad road and heavy profanity leading up to the end, The Big Lebowski still has a happy ending. Well, maybe not happy, but The Dude has moved on from the freakish events we saw earlier. And one gag late in the show threw me into a full-force laughing fit; I was glad I didn’t have people sitting right next to me, or I’d’ve bumped into them repeatedly.

Here’s the story: It’s L.A., early 1991. The Dude is mistaken for a rich man – the Big Lebowski himself – and is roughed up by punks before they realize they’ve made a mistake. It turns out The Big Lebowski is in dire straits: his trophy wife, a porn film star, has been kidnapped, and he tells The Dude he needs someone to make the ransom drop – and that someone (ta daa!) is The Dude.

During The Dude’s mission, our hero – no, the guy who’s in front of the camera the most – stumbles onto a child molester, black-clad German nihilists (including Peter Stormare from Fargo and Armageddon), a 15-year-old alleged thief, an old man in an iron lung, a severed toe, a private detective, and the Big Lebowski’s artist daughter Maude (the gorgeous and stylized Julianne Moore), who’s interested in The Dude for her own purposes. The Dude’s bowling buds (friends, I mean friends!) John Goodman and a dead-and-dumb-looking Steve Buscemi – who’s always bumming bowling shirts off of others (each of his shirts has a different name on it) – are dragged along for the ride.

The movie doesn’t make sense, but it avoids making sense in a way that makes sense. (Did that make sense?) A lot of this film is an indulgence of this filmmaking brother team, and self-indulgence is not necessarily bad here. They can throw in anything – like The Dude thinking Saddam Hussein is handing him his bowling shoes in one insane dream sequence – and it doesn’t have to have meaning. And when the plot is solved, it’s pretty much by accident and still leaves a bunch of loose ends…but The Dude lives on.

This is not a great film, partly since it is so hard to make an Important Film about stupidity and vacuity – the same problem the otherwise good and entertaining To Die For ran into. But The Big Lebowski knows this, and just goes with its own flow, which is kind of refreshing.

And it gives people like me who’ve never even had a beer a vague sense of what it must be like to spend your life stoned. Cool.

***

Still never stoned (though I do allow myself to drink now),
chris_walsh

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
theloriest
May. 1st, 2008 09:13 pm (UTC)
I may need to be stoned in order to enjoy movies like this (or the equally disliked Donnie Darko).

And since I will never smoke pot, I don't think I'll ever reach that point.

The points you made about the plot making little sense, events not flowing, and characters coming and going with no obvious purpose is a precise recipe to make a movie that I am all but guaranteed to find distasteful.

My brother thinks I am an abomination.



Edited at 2008-05-01 09:13 pm (UTC)
chris_walsh
May. 1st, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
The movie drives a lot of people nuts. William Goldman (the Princess Bride writer, and a big Coen Brothers fan) saw the film, and because it makes such a big deal about the bowling and how there's a tournament coming up, Goldman was sure the film's climax would involve that tournament. He was surprised it didn't. When he later talked to the Coens about it, they said they'd never intended to show the tournament; it had never even occurred to them to show it. That surprised Goldman more.

The Coens...can play by their own rules. The Big Lebowski is a good, messy example of that, especially after the much more elegant and straightforward Fargo.
knowmad
May. 1st, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, I loved this film ... plot? Maybe not, but who says a movie needs one? It's more about moods and impressions and, of course, laughs.

High weirdness, which suits me fine.

Am curious, though ... what was the gag that had you laughing? There was one funny-as-hell moment in the movie that had me and my then-wife cracking up for minutes, but it is one of those things that doesn't sound funny when you simply describe it -- you have to have seen it.
chris_walsh
May. 1st, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
What happened to the ashes.

I'll say no more.
chris_walsh
May. 2nd, 2008 10:44 pm (UTC)
And I really did like this film, though I'm not sure how much I conveyed that in my review. Dad saw it later on video and thought I can see Chris liking this. (We're a family of Coen Brothers appreciaters.)

Aside! I'm so glad I saw the Coen's Raising Arizona in the theater: that film's chase scene made me laugh so hard I started to unsettle my stomach.
happyspector
May. 4th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
All in agreement, except it would seem time and the massive cult following is disputing you on the question of the film's greatness ;-)

And I can tell you with some authority that yes, it not only effectively communicates the feeling of being stoned, but communicates a lot about going through truly insane, often scary and dangerous shit with your buddies (and always taking it in stride in a strange way, even when butting heads with said pals in the midst of it)... often, yes, while stoned.
chris_walsh
May. 5th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
it would seem time and the massive cult following is disputing you on the question of the film's greatness.

Shut the fuck up, Matty, you're out of your element.

;-)

It found its audience, and I'm happy about that. It's grown on me, too, and each time I hear of someone responding well to it I smile. Like Dad: he saw it, liked it, cracked up at a moment where The Dude gets math wrong (showing that yes math can be funny), and thought "Chris probably liked this."

Back in '98 I likely was overthinking it -- a frequent problem when I write reviews -- and trying to make a Grand Statement. I still believe the statement "it is so hard to make an Important Film about stupidity and vacuity," though.

And I remain very proud of "The movie doesn’t make sense, but it avoids making sense in a way that makes sense. (Did that make sense?)" Really, I loved that the film can be summed up like that.
chris_walsh
May. 5th, 2009 04:50 am (UTC)
And I can tell you with some authority that yes, it not only effectively communicates the feeling of being stoned, but communicates a lot about going through truly insane, often scary and dangerous shit with your buddies (and always taking it in stride in a strange way, even when butting heads with said pals in the midst of it)... often, yes, while stoned.

Cool. Not that I'm going to partake, but still. (Now I wonder if the Coens have ever been stoned.)
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