Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman
Written and Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
* * (out of 4)
I count myself as a fan of the Coen Brothers films. I like their writing, I like their characters, I like their visual style. They have made some crazy ideas for films somehow work.
By the time the Coen Brothers made “The Big Lebowski” in 1998, they already had 6 films to their credit, having most recently made what is still their best film, “Fargo”. They had enough success, and built up enough goodwill with their audiences that they could get away with some things that other filmmakers couldn’t.
I fear that the usually reliable Coen Brothers got too caught up in that creative and artistic free license when they made “The Big Lebowski.” It is a somewhat polarizing film that has the familiar quirkiness of previous Coen Brothers films, but relies far too heavily on style over substance. It is often a very funny movie, but it never begins to make any sense, or have any meaning. It’s a very strang movie, and you either buy into it, and enjoy it for its zaniness, or you don’t. I bought into it, at least for its story and its characters, but I didn’t quite get the zaniness. I think the film is an exercise in pure style, and that just didn’t work.
Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Bridges) comes home to find two thugs waiting for him and saying his wife owes them money, and one of them urinates on The Dude’s rug, (which disappoints him because the rug “really pulled the room together.”) They quickly realize they’ve got the wrong Lebowski, and leave. The Dude goes looking for the other Jeff Lebowki (David Huddleston), hoping to get compensated for his soiled rug. Later, when the other Lebowski’s trophy wife is kidnapped, The Dude is recruited as an intermediary to negotiate her safe return.
The Dude’s also an avid bowler, and spends a lot of time down at the bowling alley with Walter(Goodman), a grizzled Vietnam vet who advises on what to do about his current problem, and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), a timid little shrimp who can hardly get three words out without being told by Walter to shut up.
The character of The Dude is an interesting study. I can buy into the idea of him, and Jeff Bridges plays it perfectly. He is a idol for many fans of this film, though whether its his philosophy or his lifestyle or both is unclear to me. I suppose I can understand the appeal of The Dude, but I think what it comes down to is that his life is not mine, it is not one that I aspire to, and while a character like that may be fine as a supporting role, I find it difficult to stick with him for 2 hours.
This was my second viewing of “The Big Lebowski,” and I think I liked it less than the first time I watched it, and I didn’t overly enjoy that time either. I have really tried to like this film, but keep coming back to the same thing–this film is an experiment in pure style. I enjoy the Coen Brothers style, but what made their previous films work was some substance that makes the film worth watching. I have yet to find that in this film.
The Coen Brothers can do so much better than this. “The Big Lebowski” feels like a wannabe ripoff of what has made their previous films work. It’s sort of like a weird crossing of “Raising Arizona” and “Fargo”. They got the style right, but never do anything interesting with it.