I can perhaps best be described as a crotchety old man at heart. I have strong opinions about many things, music and films in particular, and I’m not afraid to voice them. I enjoy some things that are more obscure, but I also enjoy a lot of mainstream art. The same can be said for the opposite. I’m not a contrarian by nature, but I’m also quite happy to shake my head in bewilderment when I see what appears to be a real life emulation of the Emperor’s New Clothes. One such example in my not-so-humble opinion is The Big Lebowski.I wanted to like The Big Lebowski. I really did.I wanted to like The Big Lebowski. I really did. I actually own the movie. In response to the suggestion of several friends of whose general taste in things I normally approve, I actually bought the movie before seeing it. Clearly, my expectations were high for my first viewing. It was nearly halfway through the movie when I caught myself not only checking my watch but wondering when the alleged comedy would begin. The movie eventually crawled to its conclusion, and it had induced no more than a handful of smirks on my part. I was quite confused as to why this film was such a classic. That said, I also did not laugh during my first viewing of Dr. Strangelove, a film that I now am in near-hysterical laughter throughout the duration. Some movies take more than one viewing, and I understand this.
However, on my repeated viewings the only thing that increased for me was my boredom level. I’d seen the film before, naturally, so what was amusing to me before became much less so with each attempt to “get” the film. It became apparent that the film was no more than what it was on the surface: the tale of a slacker who gets in far over his head in a crazy and complicated scheme, aided and hindered by a collection of “zany” characters. Some characters worked (John Goodman’s Walter, in particular) but most didn’t (John Turturro’s Jesus Quintana was practically laughing at himself in that way Will Ferrell would later popularize). In the middle there’s several largely unnecessary subplots, pointless and unfunny shots of The Dude flying and rolling inside of bowling balls, and a hefty collection of tired jokes.
I think the most effective argument I can devise to address my opinion would be to examine a handful of the “quotable” lines of the film and discuss why said quotable status should inspire deep feelings of Weltschmerz amongst the deepest Lebowski devotees.
1. “Do you see a wedding ring on my finger? Does this place look like I’m fucking married? The toilet seat’s up, man!”
This particular quote recently made the rounds in 15th anniversary “Best Big Lebowski Quotes” lists. My problem with this is simple: the toilet seat up/down joke is probably about as old as toilets and lazy as the Dude himself. Quoting (or worse, laughing at) a joke this lazy is a good sign that you may find the riveting humor of Paul Reiser hilarious.
2. “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
As someone who has tried and failed to have conversations with stoned individuals, this is quite an infuriating reminder of how irritating potheads can be. Regardless of context leading to this line, it’s less a joke or funny line to repeat and more an examples of nails on a chalkboard.
3. “That rug really tied the room together.”
The first time this line was uttered, I was amused. The second time it was uttered, I was a bit less amused. The third and subsequent times I was bored and wishing the screenwriters were as clever as they clearly thought they were.
4. “Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
World War II humor only flies so far, particularly when the line is suggesting Nazis are more admirable than Nihilists. I can appreciate offensive humor just as much as the next guy, but this is just stupid.
Humor constantly feels forced in The Big Lebowski.Couple this winning dialogue along with performances from the delightfully wooden Julianne Moore (her work in The Lost World was more humorous, although she of course wasn’t attempting to be funny in that role), having John Turturro and Steve Buscemi playing the token weird guys yet again (Buscemi’s weird guy role in the same year’s Armageddon was a better use of his abilities), and cheating by including the always-funny John Goodman, and you have a mishmash of talents all vying for attention and trying desperately to be funny. Humor should never feel forced; the best comedies always should come across as effortlessly funny. Humor constantly feels forced in The Big Lebowski.
There are still a few moments in The Big Lebowski that are amusing to me. Goodman, as I mentioned above, is always funny. He just can’t help it. And as a very big fan of German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, seeing a parody version of them called Autobahn is still amusing to me (having Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea as a member certainly adds to this).
But again, the humor of The Big Lebowski is far outweighed by joke after joke that is about as funny as an episode of the 1980s Dennis the Menace cartoon. I can’t help but feel that some judicious trimming could have helped the movie, but its 100 minute running time is not exactly infringing on Dances with Wolves territory. Ultimately what The Big Lebowski lacks are legit jokes, and no amount of fans who claim that the emperor is in fact wearing new clothes can change that.