Friday, January 13, 2012

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski, 1998. Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore.

Like all Coen Brothers films, this one gets better with each viewing. I could go on about the genius of The Dude . . . his lines, his outfits, his reactions (my favorite being stoned in the bathtub and admonishing the Nihilists destroying his answering machine with a baseball bat, "Hey, man, this is like, a private residence . . . !") But what makes this film, in my opinion, AMAZINGLY genius is that special talent of the Coens', the seemingly incongruous character that actually turns out to be comic gold. Leonard Smalls kind of began this way in Raising Arizona; Mike Yanagita in Fargo definitely hit the jackpot . . . and most haters of the Coens will sit and complain about the randomness of such characters, interruptions, etc., but these kinds of things absolutely make the film (s) for me every time, and Lebowski is full of them:

The Jesus: Since there are unfortunately no embed-able clips available, I can't show you my favorite scene from the film, which is the Jesus Quintana sequence, first the action shot of his bowling (preceded by separate shots of his socks, coke-pinky nail, hairnet, and embroidered shirt), the slow motion pan reaction shots of The Dude, Donny, and Walter, and the subsequent "discussion" of his perverted-ness, all with the Hotel California (in Spanish) playing jubilantly as background accompaniment . . . honestly, I don't think film gets much better than that. The timing, the sound, the wide shots, and the colors all seriously thrill me to no end. In a later scene, he violently fumes over Walter's rearrangement of the schedule ("What is this bullshit? This Day-of-Rest-shit?") and while less stylized than the previous, this is also brilliant, and filled with creepy (aptly perverted) sexual innuendo and pelvic thrustings.

The Jesus also sort of speaks to the general environment of the bowling alley and its eccentricities. His purple-shirted partner, Liam O'Brien, seems an odd pairing socially, but in this film, in this bowling alley, it all ends up making perfect sense. The opening sequences of bowling pins, shoes, different bowlers, and the plastic chairs are nostalgic and familiar, and later the exterior lights of the alley become important as both sad and sort of funny punctuation after Donny's heart attack. People love bowling; to have this film take place in a bowling alley (no matter how random and strangely populated) was definitely a winning move.

Marty: The jogging landlord doesn't seem like much at first, but that subtle mention of his dance quintet comes back in a big way (complete with a huge, dramatic score, and costuming). What's more awesome about this situation, that Marty invites the Dude to come and give him notes or that in the middle of all that's been happening (money handoff thwarted, the arrival of the severed toe, loss of the briefcase, etc.) that HE STILL SHOWS UP, with Donny (and later Walter) also in attendance (!?!). What a friend The Dude is! There are obviously several other venues they could have used for the discussion of the fate of Larry Sellers (among disagreements over the finer points of The In-and-Out Burger), but what better one than Marty's Cycle? Come on!

Larry Sellers: No lines are uttered from his lips, he just sort of plops on the couch and sneers for the duration of the scene, but I think the comedy and power of his character comes from the allusions to him (rumpled social studies paper crammed into seat, camaro on street outside his house, "real fucking brat," as revealed to Maude, etc.) and his surroundings, mainly that ridiculous IRON LUNG that holds his father (Arthur Digby Sellers) making him present but helpless during the entire interrogation that happens mere feet away from him in his own home. What should be an uncomfortable scene just becomes outlandishly funny as Walter first professes his admiration for Arthur's work before going to work on the stone faced  Larry---the homework in baggie (presented as evidence) is also hilarious, as is Larry's refusal to react at all ("have you ever heard of Viet Nam, Larry?"). The second best musical interlude comes just after the destruction of The Dude's car; Oye Como Va plays as they sit inside the windshield-less car, Donny and Walter munching In-and-Outs. What a resolution.

(What a film!)