Reviewing a comedy is always difficult, since if you explain what makes it funny you’re giving away the jokes and effectively spoiling the film. Reviewing something like The Big Lebowski is especially difficult, since it can be very hard to tell what it’s actually about; the plot is wildly incoherent, and there are enough weird digressions and threads that go nowhere that summarising it is near impossible. This is, of course, the point, since it’s a parody of detective stories in general and The Big Sleep in particular, and only serves to make the film even funnier.
Replacing the Philip Marlowe detective character with Jeff Bridges’ lazy, slovenly Dude, constantly drinking White Russians, is The Big Lebowski‘s stroke of comic genius. This loveable stoner only wants to get back the rug that was stolen from him, but somehow ends up involved in a conspiracy that involves kidnapping, severed toes, being threatened with a ferret, and lots of bowling. The plot is nigh incomprehensible, but, this being a Coen brothers film, it’s more about the characters than the plot at any rate. Remarkably, the Dude manages to be the only sane character in the film, having to deal with psychotic Vietnam veteran Walter (John Goodman), omniscient Texan narrator the Stranger, and John Turturro in a bizarre cameo as blisteringly insane fellow bowler The Jesus. The characters in The Big Lebowski are all well-drawn with roles for Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi and David Thewlis. But even the ones who only show up for a scene or two, and are guaranteed to have you in stitches, The Jesus in particular, who is practically the definition of a one scene wonder.
The Dude is perhaps not Jeff Bridges’ best role, although that is up for debate, but he is probably the definitive Jeff Bridges character all the same, and certainly his most iconic. The Big Lebowski titular character clearly went on to inform the characterisation of, among others, Crazy Heart’s Bad Blake and True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn. It’s hard to shake the feeling that Bridges is essentially playing an exaggerated version of himself, not least because the Dude’s actual name is Jeffrey; this sense of the actor’s familiarity with the character’s outlook on life is what makes how the Dude deals with his ridiculous situation plausible. Strangely, the fact that the Dude is almost completely divorced from how the real world works is what makes him the only one able to deal with the insane conspiracy reasonably, in contrast to Walter, who is constantly flying off the handle, threatening people and destroying their property. Part of what makes the situation they get caught in so entertaining is that it’s almost entirely Walter’s fault: if the Dude wasn’t friends with him, he likely would not have ended up so deep in the conspiracy.
Quite simply, The Big Lebowski is one of those films that you simply have to see, especially if you’re a fan of stoner comedy.