“I’m A Lebowski, You’re A Lebowski” (#36)

big-lebowski-julianne-moore-viking“Do you like sex, Mr. Lebowski?”

“Excuse me?”

“Sex. The physical act of love. Coitus. Do you like it?”

“I was talking about my rug.”

“You’re not interested in sex?”

“You mean coitus?”

“I like it too. It’s a male myth about feminists that we hate sex. It can be a natural, zesty enterprise. However, there are some people — it is called satyriasis in men, nymphomania in women — who engage in it compulsively and without joy.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Lebowski.”

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THE BIG LEBOWSKI
March 6, 1998

Budget: $15 million
Opening Weekend: $5.5 million
Domestic Gross: $17.5 million
Metacritic Score: 69

I have a slightly contentious relationship with the Coen brothers. Sometimes I enjoy their films, and sometimes I really don’t. I find them rather overpraised, given the median quality of their output.

john-goodman-jeff-bridges-the-big-lebowskiCults can be irritating to outsiders, and the cult surrounding The Big Lebowski is especially irritating, which worships a lazy, perpetually stoned leftover hippie with a penchant for white Russians who bumbles his way through a mystery. Perhaps I’ve seen too many lazy Big Lebowski wannabes on the big screen, or read too many rip-off screenplays. I’ve grown pretty tired of the oafish man-child as a screen trope.

Imagine my surprise, then, when The Big Lebowksi turned out to be only a minor offender in this respect. Jeff Bridges’ “Dude” isn’t a total boob. He gets by doing the bare minimum, but he isn’t asking for a lot. He doesn’t feel entitled to more than his share, which is what separates him from a lot of other leading men in comedies. Going back to the 90s, you can find them in the Kevin Smith avatars of Clerks and Chasing Amy or in the vapid shenanigans of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. These guys are dumb and directionless, too, but they also seem to think the world owes them something — usually, it’s some combination of money and sex with beautiful women. Maybe it was funnier in the 90s, when this type of character wasn’t also the president.

But The Dude abides, and that’s about it. When his rug is peed on, he seeks out a responsible party and steals a rug. He legitimately attempts to help the supposedly kidnapped Bunny Lebowski, and he doesn’t have much interest in seducing Maude the way most detective figures leer at mols. His friend Walter is a bit more of a nincompoop, causing most of this film’s chaos, but the rest of The Big Lebowski‘s Los Angeles — a bizarre mashup of the 1940s, 1970s, and 1990s — is populated with characters who have real humanity behind their stylized personas. Perhaps that’s because so much of The Big Lebowski is based on real-life figures, offbeat and outrageous as they may seem. Julianne Moore’s Maude, in particular, may be bananas, but she’s also quite articulate and thoughtful. Even the zaniest supporting players, like John Turturro’s Jesus, add spice and then get out of the way of the main story. Most comedies would be tempted to overuse a character like Jesus, until he was annoying instead of funny. (As, perhaps, the all Jesus spin-off may do.)

The Big Lebowski‘s fans have overdone it a bit, but The Dude holds up in 2018. (I’m less fond of the Coen’s more recent comedic protagonists.) I won’t likely be spouting Lebowski quotes any time soon (except, maybe, Maude’s), but the film was a pleasant surprise for me, much to the relief of my cohosts. Maybe I’ll even watch it again — in another 20 years.

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