Who ever said that movies about stoners have to be simple and stupid? Joel and Ethan Coen don’t care.
The Big Lebowski is a deliriously odd comedy, centering around one of cinema’s greatest characters, Jeffrey Lebowski, better known as The Dude (Jeff Bridges). The Dude is a fan of smoking, bowling, and White Russians, but his comfortable world is turned upside down one day when German thugs show up at his house demanding money. When the thugs realize they accidentally shook down the wrong Lebowski, they leave, though not without urinating on The Dude’s beloved rug. The next day, The Dude visits the other Jeffrey Lebowski, a crippled billionaire, and asks if he can have a rug to replace his old one. As it turns out, Lebowski’s trophy wife owes the Germans a great deal of money, prompting them to try to shake down their husband and accidentally going to The Dude. When the wife disappears, The Dude and his best friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) are sent to recover her. From there, things only get more bizarre.
What’s really masterful is the handle the Coens have on all of the chaos. The beginning of the film has The Dude lamenting the loss of his rug. By the end, he’s been seduced by a feminist, been arrested, shaken down a teenager, had multiple psychedelic dream sequences, visited a pornographer, and faced off against a rude bowler named Jesus. The movie moves swiftly from one odd scene to another, yet they way in which the seemingly random events connect seem completely natural. There’s no reason why Maude Lebowski should be sorting through metal kitchen utensils during a conversation with The Dude, but when that conversation takes place in her flat filled with broken mannequins and “vaginal” paintings, it somehow makes sense.
It’s a testament to the immensely strong writing from the brothers, who pen the script with a strong sense of how to make a conversation sound simultaneously bizarre and realistic. The use of occasionally nonsense bits of dialogue, repeated lines, and in-jokey slang references give the film a very unique voice.
The comedic timing is also impeccable, carried forward by the fantastic performances of Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, who play off of each other with expert finesse. Also amusing is the movie’s aggressive use of profanity, with nearly 300 uses of the f-bomb. It never feels excessive; rather, I’d be more surprised if Walter wasn’t screaming about “fucking a stranger in the ass” while beating a car with a crowbar.
The Coens also continue to display a remarkably adept handle on how to style a realistic work filled with odd elements, whether it be characters that are more than a little off to using plenty of color and props to bring the world to life. Never does the film feel like it’s taking place on a soundstage. The Coens also take care to insert clever bits throughout the film that may not be noticeable during the first viewing, such as the fact that most if not all of the music is completely diegetic. It’s all enormously clever, and somehow, it all makes sense, which is the mark of a truly great surrealist comedy.
I don’t refer to many films as a “masterpiece,” but The Big Lebowski absolutely fits the bill as one of the best comedies of all time. It’s infectiously hilarious, and timelessly quotable. The Raymond Chandler narrative stylings and distinctly Coen flavor cohere into a delightfully odd and exceedingly fun movie. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, and I’m not ashamed of that. The Dude abides.
Take a Drink: any time a line from earlier is repeated.
Do a Shot: any time the plot careens off in another direction.
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “Lebowski.”
Do a Shot: whenever something bad happened to The Dude’s car.
Take a Drink: each time Walter tells Donny to shut the fuck up.
Take a Drink: whenever someone drops the f-bomb. Just kidding. Seriously, don’t do that.