DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Big Lebowski

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski (1998) dir. Joel Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro


By Alan Bacchus

I am one of those viewers who initially dismissed this film upon first viewing and yet grew to appreciate it with age. Why so many critics and regular movie-goers feel the same way is a curious phenomenon. Some talk about the expectations following Fargo, a morose melancholy noir picture vs. Lebowski, a rambling piece of comic fluff designed solely to generate laughs. I’m not sure my expectations had anything to do with it.

Looking back at the film it’s a heavily plotted story, which requires some attention to ‘follow along’ the accidental journey of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski from being a pot smoking couch potato to a reluctant gumshoe scouring the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles for the answers to the kidnapping of his benefactor’s daughter.

Getting caught up in the abc’s of the plot can certainly distract a viewer from the truly delightful and sublime interactions of the three affable heroes. The Dude, as played by Jeff Bridges, is disarmingly funny. We don’t realize he’s funny because he’s so serious and sure of himself. John Goodman’s character, Walter Sobchak, is a hail fire of rage and intensity peppered with random idiosyncrasies, such as his devotion to Judaism and his post-war trauma rages. And Steve Buscemi is rendered so meek and sympathetic as a willing subject to Walter’s brutality, he ceases to be a character and becomes more of an inanimate comic punching bag.

And yet this trio is so magnificent, their comic timing is as close to perfection as comedy gets. Just watch Goodman’s face, the intensity of his eyes and the commanding presence of his sitting posture. And watch Bridge’s posture, almost always lounging or at an angle in his chair, a champion of the world of his own. And hell, every time Walter says, “Shut the fuck up Donny,” it's hilarious punctuation to every scene.

The Coens throw just about anything they can to keep us off kilter and stimulated with new startling imagery. The introduction of Julianne Moore’s character, Maude, a radical abstract artist flying in on a rope to splatter her latest creation with paint from above, is dreamy fun. And the fantasy sequences exercise those stylish cinematic muscles that lay dormant in Fargo, but rear their head so magnificently here. The bowling sequences beautify the garish working class playground of the bowling alley, culminating in the bizarro but beautiful Busby Berkeley sequence later in the film.

The film is a delight to watch over and over again because knowing the plotting from the first viewing allows the audience to relax and enjoy these individual moments, specifically putting oneself in the shoes of the Coens’ affable and naive hero, The Dude, Bridges’ most inspired character of his career.

The Big Lebowski is available on Special Edition Blu-ray from Universal Home Entertainment.

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