We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
The Coen brothers' "The Big Lebowski'' is a genial, shambling comedy about a human train wreck, and should come with a warning like the one Mark Twain attached to "Huckleberry Finn'': "Persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.'' It's about a man named Jeff Lebowski, who calls himself the Dude, and is described by the narrator as "the laziest man in Los Angeles County.'' He lives only to go bowling, but is mistaken for a millionaire named the Big Lebowski, with dire consequences.
This is the first movie by Joel and Ethan Coen since "Fargo.'' Few movies could equal that one, and this one doesn't--but it's weirdly engaging, like its hero. The Dude is played by Jeff Bridges with a goatee, a potbelly, a ponytail and a pair of Bermuda shorts so large they may have been borrowed from his best friend and bowling teammate, Walter Sobchak (John Goodman). Their other teammate is Donny (Steve Buscemi), who may not be very bright, but it's hard be sure since he never is allowed to complete a sentence.
Everybody knows somebody like the Dude--and so, rumor has it, do the Coen brothers. They based the character on a movie producer and distributor named Jeff Dowd, a familiar figure at film festivals, who is tall, large, shaggy and aboil with enthusiasm. Dowd is much more successful than Lebowski (he has played an important role in the Coens' careers as indie filmmakers), but no less a creature of the moment. Both dudes depend on improvisation and inspiration much more than organization.
In spirit, "The Big Lebowski'' resembles the Coens' "Raising Arizona,'' with its large cast of peculiar characters and its strangely wonderful dialogue. Here, in a film set at the time of the Gulf War, are characters whose speech was shaped by earlier times: Vietnam (Walter), the flower power era (the Dude) and "Twilight Zone'' (Donny). Their very notion of reality may be shaped by the limited ways they have to describe it. One of the pleasures of "Fargo'' was the way the Coens listened carefully to how their characters spoke. Here, too, note that when the In & Out Burger shop is suggested for a rendezvous, the Dude supplies its address: That's the sort of precise information he would possess.
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