UNpopular Opinion: The Big Lebowski
Written by:Alex Keen
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
Hi there. Remember me? I was the dude who liked INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Well, anyways, my guess is that youíre here because the title of this column indicates I have some strong feelings about THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Perhaps youíre one of those people who make obnoxious references to the Dudes while Iím at the bar. Maybe youíre one of those impressionable dudes that has to be the cool guy and order a White Russian because the dude says so. No matter what the reason you might have for being here, I am proud to say that I disdain THE BIG LEBOWSKI and resent all of you for reminding me what the dude abides.
Before I give you my problems with the film, I am willing to admit that there are some admirable qualities to THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The cast is a solid collection of the best character actors of 1998: Buscemi, Tuturro, Julianne Moore, Peter Stormare, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Billy Bob Thornton and Ed Harris must have had better gigs or they would have rounded out the bunch. Needless to say, this group is a solid bunch of character actors and, for my money, this movie has one of the coolest characters John Turturro has ever played. Jesus is just plain bad ass.
If you were paying attention to my list, however, you will notice that I excluded one of the central actors from my list: John Goodman. While I am a big fan of Goodmanís work, in THE BIG LEBOWSKI he is practically unlikable and unenjoyable. Everything here is histrionics. Shouting about this and screaming about that. While I can respect that some characters are designed to be over-the-top, Goodmanís interpretation of crazy is just not convincing. Through all of his crazy gun-waving bombast, Goodmanís inability to contain his own laughter kills the performance. I donít feel that he truly committed to the role and made Walter more of a cartoon rather than a living character. Check out Robert Carlyle in TRAINSPOTTING for a dose of real crazy.
Connected directly to my issues with Goodmanís performance is the overall tone of the movie. In the cinematic timeline of the Coen brothers, THE BIG LEBOWSKI falls between FARGO and O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? In comparison, LEBOWSKI seems to be less of a genre film and more of hodge podge of everything. While FARGO is succinctly a thriller and O BROTHER is a comedy, THE BIG LEBOWSKI tries to be both. Just when something dramatic happens itís as if something comedic has to happen to lighten the mood. The simple logic seems to be that the Coens intend for this to be thriller featuring a bumbling stoner.
While thatís great on paper, I was left with comedic scenes that are too real and not very funny and serious scenes that are weakened by failed comedy. Itís reminiscent of a barrage of crappy knock-off genre blending movies that looked to capitalize on the successful formula within PULP FICTION. Specifically, Iím talking about forgettable crap like 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG, 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY, and THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOUíRE DEAD. While THE BIG LEBOWSKI has a much better pedigree, all of these films fail to juggle multiple genres successfully.
What makes this genre juggling especially disappointing is the fact the Coens were so good at it with RAISING ARIZONA and BURN AFTER READING. Perhaps itís because these two movies emphasize the comedic aspects more than THE BIG LEBOWSKI does. The slapstick of RAISING ARIZONA kills off any high expectations of a reality that LEBOWSKI clings to despite itself. At the same time, BURN AFTER READING goes straight to the gut with violence while still bubbling with goofy characterizations. Iím willing to admit that BURN AFTER READING isnít for everyone; however, itís management of multiple genres is far cleaner and more entertaining than LEBOWSKI.
Before I go on, I want to take a second to remind you that this column is not meant to make you pissed off. Itís not designed for you to spend hours consulting your copies of the the Coen Brotherís box set to fact check my words. Itís here to rile you up if youíre a fan. Itís here to not only piss you off but to get you really thinking deeply about what you love about this film. Iím not here to make you my enemy or to have you e-mail JoBlo about how much I suck. Iím here to remind you that not everyone is going to love the shit that you obsess over. Consider me that obnoxious classmate or co-worker that just doesnít agree with you every time.
~Back to the Show~
Finally, my last two issues with this movie are with the character of the Dude and those of you that worship him. First off, my problem with the dude is not because heís a pothead. There are plenty of iconic potheads that I worship at their stashes: Slater from DAZED AND CONFUSED, Jay from every stinkiní Kevin Smith movie, and... Cheech and/or Chong. For me, Lebowski is just a farce of a pothead. Through every step I am not convinced that Jeff Bridges truly is a pothead. (After playing the Dude in real life for the next decade he has become one) Instead, he comes across like a clean-cut choir boy trying to be a stoner. Dare I say, he might just be the Anne Hathaway of stoners. Itís all acting and no sense of reality.
Worse than Bridgesí attempt to play a stoner is die hard fan of THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Those of you that have to drink your White Russians... not because you like them... but because the Dude likes him. Those of you that would comment on this story if I didnít capitalize the ďDĒ in The Dude. Those of you that shoot quotes at me because I say the word abide. Hell, when I checked-in to watch this movie someone messaged me: ďOne of my favorite movies. The dude abides!Ē Seriously, people, THE BIG LEBOWSKI is okay. But itís not even close to as good people say it is. Hell, itís not even the best Coen brothers movie.
So, please, for the love of all things, stop obnoxiously quoting this subpar Coen brother effort. Hell, while youíre at it, stop quoting ANCHORMAN too.