Review: Big Lebowski, The (1998)

>> Thursday, June 28, 2007

USA/C-117m./Dir: Joel Coen/Wr: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen/Cast: Jeff Bridges (Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Steve Buscemi (Donny Kerabatsos), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), David Huddleston (Jeffery “The Big” Lebowski), Sam Elliott (The Stranger)

Like most films that have developed a rabid cult following over the years, The Big Lebowski was an initial disappointment. Having produced a critical and commercial smash with Fargo (1996), the Coen Brothers’ follow-up film was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 1998. Unfortunately, when the project was actually released, it was met with mediocre reviews and tepid box office (which barely earned back its budget). I doubt the Coens were surprised by the reaction. I can’t imagine they foresaw much mass audience appeal for a cowboy-narrated, hardboiled mystery film dressed up like a bowling comedy with a White Russian-sipping, stoner hero.

Jeff Bridges stars as that hero--Jeff Lebowski, an unemployed, bowling-obsessed free spirit, known to his friends as “The Dude.” When some thugs mistake the Dude for another Jeffery Lebowski (and subsequently pee on his rug), our hero gets sucked into a mystery involving kidnapping, a severed toe, porn production, a teenage car thief, and nihilists. Surprisingly, that’s only a small portion of the weirdness the Dude encounters, because the Coens have stuffed the picture to overflowing with wonderfully odd characters and situations. It doesn’t matter that some of those strange touches are merely window dressing and ultimately don’t add anything to the plot. As long as it’s fun, who cares?

The Big Lebowski deserves the ever-growing group of passionate devotees it has built up over the years. Although it’s a strange cocktail, the picture is well-written, expertly directed, and beautifully acted (especially by Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, who have never been better).

Speaking of cocktails, this cult classic gains its “booze movie” status on a number of fronts. Firstly, the Coen Brothers have described The Big Lebowski as their Raymond Chandler story, and it contains all the trappings of the author’s hardboiled mystery novels, including the alcohol. Secondly, as a bowling-themed comedy, liquor is a given. Finally and most importantly, The Big Lebowski is the ultimate movie for White Russian fans. The Dude fuels his detective work with numerous helpings the sweet drink, which he often refers to as “Caucasians.” As long as there is ‘half and half’ dripping from his mustache, the Dude abides.

Drinks Consumed--White Russians (vodka, Kahlúa, and 'half and half') and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Drunk driving, swearing, and bickering

Potent Quotables--THE DUDE (holding a White Russian, whilst being forced into a limo): Hey-hey-hey- Careful, man. There’s a beverage here.

Video Availability--The Big Lebowski - 10th Anniversary Edition DVD (Universal)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--For more boozy bowling, check out Kingpin (1996). However, if it’s a whiskey-soaked detective film you crave, seek out Murder, My Sweet (1944) based on Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell, My Lovely.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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