The Big Lebowski Plays Quite Well At 20 Years

Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” hangs out at the bowling alley with his buddies Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). (Gramercy Pictures/Universal Studios)

The Big Lebowski manages to hold up in viewing on the big screen some twenty years following its initial release in theaters.

Avid bowler Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski arrived home one evening only to be assaulted in a case of mistaken identity. It turns out some fools were hired because Bunny, the wife of another Jeffrey Lebowski, owes money to a porn producer. One of them made the awful mistake of crossing The Dude by peeing on his rug. Talk about having bad banners. So what happens? He tells his friends, Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and frequent talker Donny (Steve Buscemi).

Angry over the rug, it only makes since to visit this other Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston). It turns out this other guy is a huge millionaire in Pasadena–hence, the assholes who visited his place and pee on his fucking rug. For a guy with a real attitude problem, it’s a wonder that his assistant, Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), hasn’t quit yet. The situation grows complex when Bunny (Tara Reid) goes missing and a ransom letter shows up. This millionaire can’t even take care of his own problems so why does The Dude have to do the work for them?

If this whole situation is not crazy enough, someone else shows up, knocks The Dude out, and steals his newly acquired rug. It turns out that Maude Lebowski is the adult daughter and the rug has value to her. Oh yeah, her father isn’t the millionaire that everyone thinks he is! The plot only continues to thicken! A car gets stolen. Jackie Treehorn drugs him. Maude wants to have his child.

If The Dude weren’t so upset about The Eagles playing in a cab, he would clearly have noticed Bunny alive and all. This may be the funniest scene in the whole dang film. I especially love how Jeff Bridges plays up the drama.

There’s a lot of humor in this comedy of mistaken identity. The film lives up to the Coen Brothers brand that we’ve come to know and love. After all, the brothers were well on the rise especially after winning an Oscar for their Fargo screenplay. Less than a year after their win, The Big Lebowski would premiere at Sundance in January 1998. It’s perplexing that a film this funny–with some astonishing dream sequences–would struggle to find an audience.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins provides A+ work as usual. How did he not get an Oscar nomination for his work on the film? T-Bone Burnett does an amazing job in putting songs together in his role as music archivist. The soundtrack is really stellar to say the least.

It’s amazing to look back on prior films and realize how much plot would be unnecessary with the advent of technological advances. Maybe I’m overthinking it but a decade later, it would simply take a phone call to a cell phone. Or locking onto the GPS system. But I digress.

A quick thought for the 25th anniversary: I wasn’t familiar with any films based on Raymond Chandler’s work until a few years after formally reviewing the film in 2018. Upon rewatching in 2022, you can definitely see how the novelist would influence the Coen brothers. Hell, all one needs to do is simply look at the film’s plot! It is very Chandler-esque in that regard. Oh yeah, there are so many quotes in this film that are still popular today. You do not have to look far to find GIFs on social media. One of my personal favorites: I don’t roll on Shabbos!

If one were to examine the entire cinematic resume of the Coen Brothers, The Big Lebowski would assuredly rest within the top five spots.

DIRECTOR:  Joel Coen
SCREENWRITERS:  Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
CAST:  Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Flea, Leon Russom, and Sam Elliott, with John Turturro, Ben Gazzara, David Thewlis

Gramercy Pictures released The Big Lebowski on March 6, 1998. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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