The Big Lebowski is a film that is all over the map, and that might be generously understating things. Here is a film involving a urinated-on-carpet, a kidnapping, bowling, the Vietnam War, multiple ransom requests, marijuana, an a woman who paints by swinging from the rafters naked. All of these things become important in a plot about a man who just wants compensation for that aforementioned carpet.
That man is “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges). He’s a slacker who comes home one day to find two men waiting for him. They dunk his head in the toilet, pee on his rug, and tell him that his wife, Bunny (Tara Reid), owes a lot of money to a lot of people. There’s only one problem: These men have the wrong man. The Dude isn’t married. They peed on his rug for nothing! It turns out, there are two men with the last name of “Lebowski” in Los Angeles, and they went after the wrong one. The real Lebowski, the one with all of the money, has the first name of Jeffrey (David Huddleston). The Dude demands compensation for the ruined carpet, but Jeffrey refuses on the grounds that he didn’t personally urinate on The Dude’s carpet. Fair enough. The Dude steals a carpet anyway, unbeknownst to Jeffrey’s assistant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
The next day, Jeffrey contacts The Dude with an important job. Bunny has been kidnapped, and ransom money has been demanded. The money isn’t a problem, but Jeffrey wants The Dude to deliver the money, as he will be able to identify whether the men are the same ones who broke into The Dude’s house earlier. Eventually, one thing leads to another, additional parties get involved, and everyone seems to be directing their hate toward The Dude, even though he wanted no nothing do with these people or their business.
Meanwhile, there’s a bowling tournament going on. The Dude is on a team with his friends, Walter (John Goodman), a Vietnam veteran — a man whose screws might have been loosened by warfare — and Donny (Steve Buscemi), a man who constantly buts his head into conversations that don’t involve him, and is told off for it as well. Walter plays a bigger role outside of the alley, actually being the reason that the plot is so unhinged. He causes most of the problems for The Dude, leading him in directions he would never have expected.
Even the conversations in The Big Lebowski have multiple plot threads. Characters will stop and start their points as they’re interrupted or they’ll begin talking to other characters in mid-sentence and — if I began talking about watermelons here, this paragraph would be just like The Big Lebowski. There is a lot to keep track of, and I’m not sure all of it makes complete sense, but it’s always interesting and entertaining, even if it doesn’t exactly add up to much.
This is a film with a narrator, this time coming in the form of a mustache-donning Sam Elliott, who actually appears in the film a couple of times, coming completely out of nowhere and with no real explanation. If it wasn’t for his interaction with an off-screen bartender, I would have thought him an imagination of The Dude, and by extension, the whole film being inside of The Dude’s head. But that’s not the case, thankfully, and he just appears as an omnipotent being to serve as a soothing voice to guide us through the film.
You have to be in a certain kind of mindset to enjoy a film like The Big Lebowski. You have to be willing to pay attention, you need to enjoy a slacker of a main character, and you need to “get” Coen Brothers’ humor. But if all of that falls into place, you’ll probably have a really good time, even if the film doesn’t entirely add up and make perfect sense. You’ll probably laugh and enjoy yourself while watching it. There’s also more depth and complexity than you might initially think, making re-watches more enjoyable.
Ultimately, I do think there is too much going on, weighing the film down and making it overstay its welcome. The Big Lebowski runs for just about two hours, but really shouldn’t have been more than 100 minutes, if that. There are scenes like the one with a private investigator, with his landlord, or with John Turturro’s bowler, that just have no purpose being here except to get some laughs. If they got tied up in some way, maybe I’d more be lenient toward them, but as they are, they serve little narrative function and should have been removed to help with the pacing.
Jeff Bridges is really fun to watch in the lead role, even if his laid-back attitude does often get annoying. Most of the other actors are hamming it up, which furthered my suspicion that this was all in The Dude’s head. I particularly enjoyed David Huddleston and John Goodman’s characters, even if they served more often as plot devices than real people. But they’re enjoyable to watch nonetheless.
The Big Lebowski is a mess, but it’s an enjoyable mess that doesn’t get boring. I laughed a lot while watching it, presumably because I was in the right mindset, and I actually came to like Jeff Bridges’ slacker mentality. There’s too much going on, and the screenplay needed tightening, but on the whole, you can do a lot worse than with this movie. It’s not a strike, but a split. If you understood what that meant, this is a movie for you.