A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 236 – The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski – October 22nd, 2010

I admit, I kind of don’t want to write this review. I’m tired and my head hurts and there’s a lot of yelling in this movie so that didn’t help the head. So I’m not in the mood to write a review at all, but I’m also not sure I’m up to reviewing this movie. I’m kind of cranky about it, to be honest. Because I don’t find it to be a flawlessly brilliant Coen Brothers masterpiece. I know it has a following. I seem to recall reading about a convention somewhere for people who dress up like characters from the movie and know it all by heart. So I know people love it. Enough people to get together for an annual event. That’s cool and all. But I’m not one of those people. When I want to put in a mystery/action/comedy full of quirky characters and quotable lines I’ll go for Buckaroo Banzai. And when I want a Coen Brothers movie I’ll go for Raising Arizona or O Brother, Where Art Thou? It just doesn’t strike enough of a chord with me to get me past the one thing that makes me cringe for a large portion of the movie: Walter.

I really really don’t like Walter. I’d have to say he makes this movie really unpleasant for me to watch at times. I find it hard to enjoy a lot of his scenes because, well, I’ve met guys like Walter. They are terrifying to be around. So yeah. I love Jeff Bridges. I love a lot of stuff in this movie. But I cannot stand Walter. He makes my fight-or-flight instinct kick in, and no non-horror movie should do that to me. He yells, he rants, he waves a fucking gun around and threatens people for supposed bowling infractions. He gets all riled up and pissed off and having worked retail and had guys get riled up and pissed off for incredibly minor things that are only problems because of something they did? I can’t really see him as a comedic figure. I don’t find him funny in the least. I find him cringe-inducing. When he starts yelling over The Dude, I want to leave the room. That’s no way to watch a movie.

It pisses me off, to be honest. Because Walter kind of sits at the root of most of the situation. The Dude gets mistaken for another guy with the same name (Jeffrey Lebowski) and some thugs piss on his rug and that’s just not cool. That much? Totally not Walter’s fault. Walter did not urinate on The Dude’s rug. He wouldn’t have done that. It really tied the room together and Walter knows that. But it’s Walter who gets The Dude all riled up about it and urges him to go find the other Jeffrey Lebowski. And when the other Lebowski’s trophy wife goes missing and he hires The Dude to drop off the ransom money to her supposed kidnappers, it’s Walter who comes along and fucks up the drop. Sure, he’s right about the kidnapping in the end, but The Dude wouldn’t even have gotten mixed up with the Big Lebowski and his wife, Bunny, or the pornographer and his thugs, or the Nihilists, if Walter wasn’t an angry jackass running his mouth off. He even pisses off the relatively calm Dude eventually. I can see how he’s supposed to be this over the top caricature and his out of control antics are supposed to be amusing in an astonished-at-him sort of way. I just can’t see him as caricature. Sorry. When you’ve encountered people like him in real life – multiple people – it ceases to be caricature and becomes reality.

Anyhow, if I could get past Walter, or if he didn’t show up nearly as much as he does, I think I’d really enjoy this movie. Which is what pisses me off about him. My reaction to him ends up overshadowing my reaction to everything else. Maybe he’s like cilantro. Lots of people love the stuff. But if there’s one leaf of it in something all I can taste is soap. So let’s get rid of the cilantro. Let’s just assume he plays a role in putting things in motion and otherwise roll along with the rest of the movie. And you know what? That’s actually pretty cool! It’s a mystery, really, with a kidnapping and family squabbles and two possible culprits and a dismembered toe in an envelope. It’s noir without the noir. All the plot, none of the ambiance. If you don’t really look at the plot itself you might miss it amongst all the White Russians and rug obsessions and pot smoking. But seriously. Look at the plot.

Wealthy Jeffrey Lebowski’s trophy wife, Bunny, has apparently been kidnapped. He hires our hero to drop off the money to the kidnappers and secure her safe return. The drop goes awry and soon our hero finds himself in trouble with Lebowski, the kidnappers, folks the wife owed money to, and then he meets Lebowski’s daughter. She’s sultry and mysterious and doesn’t get along with her father or the trophy wife. She wants the money back. But the money is missing. The kidnappers want the money. But the money is missing. The folks the wife owed money to? Want the money. But? The money? It is missing. And so The Dude, our hero, has to find out what happened to the money. And he never asked to get involved in all of this. It’s all because of a case of mistaken identity. That right there is a great little mystery setup. And then the hero is this aging hippie who’s happiest when he’s stoned, drinking a White Russian, or bowling. He peppers his speech with lots of filler, dudes and mans and fucks. He sprawls when he sits down. He’s not a private eye – in fact he has an encounter with one who thinks he is and disabuses him of that notion right quick – he just wanted his rug replaced.

The whole movie is this bizarre melding of genres, which the Coen Brothers seem to do rather well. Taking something classic and plunking it down in a time and place it never belonged before works rather well for them. They certainly seem to have had fun making this movie, as did Jeff Daniels, who does a fantastic job with The Dude. He’s utterly incomprehensible much of the time, and yet you always know what he means. I really like him, and I like a lot of the rest of the cast, and I like the mystery and I like the concept. I like the bowling and the bizarre dream sequences. I just don’t like Walter. It’s not that John Goodman does a bad job playing him. It’s that he does too dedicated a job. To the point where I fully believe him. I would just rather believe him a little less so I could enjoy the rest of the movie more.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Big Lebowski

October 22, 2010

The Big Lebowski

Back to Coen Brothers territory tonight! It’s another quirky comedy this time, but a quirky comedy as only Joel and Ethan can do it. I enjoyed this movie the first couple times I saw it but didn’t really grok it until I looked at the special features material on the disk here. It’s filled with crudity, drug humor, and a slew of irritating and unlikable characters. It didn’t quite gel for me, what with its kidnapping mystery, screaming rants, delirious dream sequences and completely tangential narration. It had moments I really enjoyed and I loved the character of the Dude, but on the whole the movie made no sense to me until I watched the special features which involve the Coen Brothers talking about the inspiration that drove them when they wrote the screenplay. Then it suddenly clicked into place for me and made perfect sense, and my enjoyment of the movie was vastly improved.

They explain that what they were creating was a Raymond Chandleresque mystery movie but with a completely inappropriate modern character taking the lead role. Instead of the tough as nails hard boiled Philip Marlowe caught up between the various factions represented here we have simply the Dude. The Dude who is introduced in the opening narration by Sam Elliott as possibly the laziest man alive. The Dude who glides through life in a pot induced haze with no ambition or goal until he finds himself thrust into the twisted plot of mystery and intrigue that is the rest of the movie.

It’s like a bizarre collision between to completely different genres. On the one hand the stoner comedy about a guy who just wants to bowl with his pals and on the other this serious Big Sleep style detective story. With some strange Coen Brothers surrealism thrown in for fun.

The truth is that I like the detective story more than the comedy buddy part. I’ll agree with Amanda, who finds John Goodman’s character Walter (the instigator of most that goes bad in the movie) almost unwatchably irritating. But the mystery, even though it is a spoof for the most part, feels remarkably faithful to the source material. Just look at what happens to the Dude in the course of his adventure: he gets abducted by the cold and mysterious daughter, he gets abducted by the shady porn producer, he gets slipped a mickey, he gets roughed up by a crooked police officer, he confronts a private detective who has been tailing him… it’s just a series of hard boiled movie tropes played out one after another. He even eventually gets the girl (in a strange sort of way.) What I find most delightful is that by the end of the movie, and against all possible expectation, the Dude turns out to be a pretty good detective. He starts to understand the rules of the strange world he’s been thrown into. When he finds his apartment ransacked after being drugged at the palatial home of Jackie Treehorn he instantly knows who it was that did it and why – without even having to think about it. He actually solves part of the mystery. You begin to get the sense that under different circumstances the Dude would make a pretty darn good Marlowe. (Maybe it’s just that he has the innate ability to find the path of least resistance and in this case that means finding his place in the narrative he’s in.)

There are plenty of things to love about this movie. Like the delirious dream sequences that the Dude falls into when he’s knocked unconscious. Like the witty soundtrack (which in an odd coincidence uses two songs from a mix tape my friend Christine once gave me – adding a whole other layer of nostalgia to the movie that the Coens could never have intended.) Like the great performances of the entire cast. Sure Goodman’s character is a complete asshole and fuckup, but he plays him with dedication and conviction. Jeff Bridges so embodies the Dude that he almost seems to have been typecast into that washed up hippie role ever since. Julianne Moore and her terrific Katherine Hepburn accent is a hoot to watch and steals every scene she’s in. Coen Brothers regulars Steve Buscemi and John Turturro both give unforgettable performances as the poor innocent doomed Donnie and the creepy Jesus. I think this was the first movie I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in and I instantly loved him (he was probably my favorite part of Magnolia too – but that’s another review.)

This is a difficulty movie to like sometimes. I appreciate its unique and strange genius. I enjoy many of the stranger moments in the movie. I hate Walter, but I can mostly get past that. Watching this tonight has made me aware once again of some of the gaping holes in our collection. I wish we had The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and To Have and Have Not. So many great movies out there we don’t have yet!

October 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments