RogerBW's Blog

The Big Lebowski (1998) 29 June 2022

1998 crime/comedy, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, Jeff Bridges; IMDb / allmovie. That rug really tied the room together.

This is a hugely popular film; but while I enjoyed it, I couldn't love it. As a piece of art it's a splendid parody of the futility of the noir setup: here's a complex (by film standards) plot of intersecting villanies, and our hero just wanders through it, occasionally acting to preserve his own life, and while he does learn what's going on he ends up not putting right any of the wrongs. But that's basically all it's got to tie the individual scenes into something like a cohesive whole, and in the end that's not very much.

I see here some of the early manchild protagonist that got so woefully popular later, in this hero who just wants to go bowling and smoke weed – but unlike the "heroes" of Farrelly films like Dumb and Dumber (1994) and all its imitators, The Dude doesn't make things worse for anyone else, or demand that the world treat him as somebody special. So that's good.

It's well known that The Dude is based on the real Jeff Dowd, activist in the 1960s and film producer and promoter since – but while the manner may be accurate up to a point, what everyone who's met Dowd seems to talk about is his energy, the way he'll enthuse about whatever he's working on… and that's missing here, leaving something of a vacuum.

I have less sympathy for his best friend Walter, possibly because I've met people just like that (but the UK version is into airsoft rather than real guns), the macho idiot for whom any minor obstacle is a personal attack on their entire way of life. It's superbly observed (little details like the fact that Walter runs a security business, and one can picture just what sort of advice he'd be giving), and very well portrayed by John Goodman, but the character's a constant irritant.

What I really miss here, compared with Blood Simple or Fargo, is… well, is Frances McDormand, but also is any sort of substantial female role. There are only two women here with more than walk-on appearances, they're both very simplistic characters largely defined by their sexuality, and of course they never meet, still less talk to, each other, still less about something other than a man. It's a sad let-down after those other films.

Still, I enjoy the dream sequences; I enjoy the way all the characters clearly think they're heroes in a Tarantino film when they very evidently aren't. But while there are some fine bits (and some excellent physical acting by Bridges) in the end those bits don't quite stick together.

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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