This wild concoction of profane humour and bizarre antics, and an unusual narrative that doesn’t quite amount to anything, is perhaps the most cultish of all Coens’ pictures, but not necessarily one of their best.
Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
1998 | USA | Comedy/Crime | 117 mins | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for pervasive strong language, drug content, sexuality and brief violence
Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Plot: “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin)
Source: Universal (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Light/Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed on DVD – first published 14 Apr 2015)
As far as the Coen brothers’ filmography is concerned, The Big Lebowski is undeniably their biggest cult hit. Starring Jeff Bridges as “The Dude”, who gets caught up in what seems like a typical case of mistaken identity, but falls headlong into something far stranger than expected.
His bowling buddies join him, though not always on persuasive terms, to attempt to get compensation for his ruined rug that was peed on.
The film is a wild concoction of profane humour and bizarre antics, like a stoned stoner comedy (with less drugs than usual), but with the wit of the Coens’ writing, and the striking, if sometimes surreal visual flourishes of Roger Deakins’ cinematography.
I think it’s fair to say that The Big Lebowski has had a tremendous impact on the way the American low-brow slacker culture is portrayed, to the point that many of the lines have been quoted by die-hard fans, the characters parodied, and a way-of-life possibly imitated, for real or otherwise.
“Yeah, well. The Dude abides.”
With a cast consisting of John Goodman, Julianne Moore and Steve Buscemi, The Big Lebowski leverages on their character quirks, and finds comedy gold in many of their interactions (especially with Bridges’). Much of the humour hit the bullseye, though they may not be immediately understood by non-American audiences.
Despite the excellent writing, The Big Lebowski is probably one of the Coens’ least coherent pictures. I don’t think it is a flaw, and I believe it is intentioned that way, though I must add that it does make the film less meaningful than expected.
The narrative feels like it is made up of numerous interlinks of farce and mundaneness that don’t quite amount to anything. To put it very critically, there is no point to the movie at all, even if that’s the point of it all.
The Big Lebowski has enjoyed nearly two decades of cult following, but while it contains some of the most cracking dialogue the Coens have ever put on the big screen, the film is not necessarily one of their best.
It’s an unusual film, even by the Coens’ standard. But to pull something like this off after Fargo (1996)… I think many didn’t see it coming.