Put on your bathrobes, dudes and dudettes, order your White Russians (don’t forget the fresh cream) and get ready to tie the room together with awesomeness.
“The Big Lebowski” is back in town, or at least it will be Jan. 4 at the Oaks Theater, Oakmont as the irreverent slacker-hero cult classic continues its 20th anniversary run into year 21.
Can you think of a better way to start a new year?
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
Not particularly well received by critics, and certainly not at the box office, when it was released in 1998, all that has changed.
In 2014, the Library of Congress selected the Coen Brothers’ sly and funny homage to noir movies and detective novels as one of the “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” films worthy of being preserved for future generations through its National Film Registry.
Finally, some respect
The registry, as you might expect, since they’re not into the whole brevity thing, got all fancy in praising this “tale of kidnapping, mistaken identity, and bowling” for its exploration of “alienation, inequality, and class structure via a group of hard-luck, off-beat characters suddenly drawn into each other’s orbits.”
You don’t need to know all that to recognize once you see it that “Lebowski,” big or otherwise, is special.
It stars Jeff Bridges as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire of the same name, seeking restitution for his ruined rug (“They peed on my rug, man!”) and enlisting his bowling buddies to help get it.
That’s when the fun begins.
What a cast
The cast also includes John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Huddleston and Sam Elliott, among others.
Joel Coen has even suggested he knew the plot would probably be somewhat confusing to many viewers seeing it for the first time and that it probably wouldn’t matter.
“The plot is sort of secondary to the other things that are sort of going on in the piece,” he said in a DVD extra for the film. “I think that if people get a little confused, it’s not necessarily going to get in the way of them enjoying the movie.”
“What drives people to want to see ‘The Big Lebowski’ are its relatable characters that could be an everyday person, but are cast into a ridiculous situation. It’s fun, touching and over the top,” says Joe Wichryk II, managing director of The Oaks.
”What makes this movie great is the same thing that makes films like ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ and the ‘Goonies’ great,” he adds.
“It lets viewers feel like they are a part of something and can relate to everyone in the group watching.”
In on the inside
Charlie Humphrey, former executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, offers: “Everyone who watches ‘The Big Lebowski’ thinks they are the only ones who get it, as if the movie represents a sort of metaphysical perspective. It makes them feel they are in on an inside joke.”
He particularly enjoys the character of Brant, played by Hoffman, and “his absolute bewilderment at everything the Dude says.”
Shawn Israel of Leechburg, former Pittsburgh radio disc jockey who is active in the arts community, saw “Lebowski” when it was first released in 1998 at the Beehive in Oakland (formerly the Kings Court).
He was drawn immediately to its playful take on 1946’s “The Big Sleep,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
According to legend, he explains, even the writer of its source material, Raymond Chandler, didn’t quite get how all of “Sleep’s” threads fit together in the
“I liked how the bizarre characters and twisty plotting of ‘Lebowski’ made for an oddly satisfying modern take on the classic tropes of ’40s film noir,” says Israel, who is assistant house manager at The Pittsburgh Public Theatre, and seasonally is on the customer service staff at the Kiski Valley’s Riverside Drive-in and the events crew at the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh.
“The Riverside Drive-In has never run ‘Lebowski’ to the best of my knowledge, but who knows, it may turn up on one of our occasional retro nights in the future,” he says.
Home video saved the day
“Lebowski” really took off once it went to home video, he adds, “not least I think because of Jeff Bridges as Jeff Lebowski, played as a charmingly shambling slacker, albeit impressively astute at pursuing the film’s seemingly unresolvable mystery.”
Also helping its appeal, Israel believes, was the grounding social ritual of bowling that accommodated both the contrasting personalities of Lebowski and John Goodman’s hyper-intense Walter Sobchak. “It’s impossible to imagine this vehicle flying without their improbable but effective chemistry,” he suggests.
He also was amused by Julianne Moore’s all-business Maude, which he regards as homage to characters Bette Davis would often play.
A must-see at least once
Jessica Claypoole of Arnold thinks it is a movie that everyone should see at least once.
“The cast is fantastic, and it’s the hilarity in general,” she says. “It is sort of crude humor, which I find particularly funny personally.”
(The F-word is used 260 times — yes, someone counted — prompting a stranger in the movie to ask, “Do you have to use so many cuss words?”)
“The story line has shenanigans that however unlikely still makes the viewer feel they can relate in an odd way,” says Claypoole.
Shane Henderson of Tarentum has seen “Lebowski” many times.
“I remember the first time was when my friend Tommy gave me the VHS tape in 8th grade,” he recalls. “I think it might hold a record for most ‘F-bombs.’ If not it has to be in the top 10.”
He believes the film struck a chord because of its unconventional humor, the characters, the actors portraying them and “the ridiculous plot.”
Those ingredients, including the infamous F-bombs, have given it cult status, Henderson says.
It’s just his way of saying “The Big Lebowski” will abide!
A LEBOWSKI PRIMER
So, you want to sound cool when you show up at “The Big Lebowski” for the first time?
Then try memorizing, and causally working in to your conversation, some of these familiar utterances from the movie, said to be one of the most quoted films of all time:
• “The Dude abides.”
• “That rug really tied the room together.”
• “I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me. That or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”
• “Smokey, this is not Vietnam, this is bowling. There are rules.”
• “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
• “Obviously, you are not a golfer.”
• “I hate the (blankety-blank) Eagles, man.”
• “Do you have to use so many cuss words?”
• “Careful, man, there’s a beverage here.”
• “This aggression will not stand, man.”
• “You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude.”
• “Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock this afternoon … with nail polish.”
• “You are entering a world of pain.”
• “Calm down. You’re being very un-dude.”
• “At least I’m housebroken.”
• “Strikes and gutters, ups and downs.”
• “Sooner or later you are going to have to face the fact that you’re a moron.”
• “(Blankety-blank) it dude, let’s go bowling.”
• “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there, the Dude, takin’ ’er easy for all us sinners.”
— From the script of “The Big Lebowski”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review