Saturday, May 21, 2011

Great Disdain for The Big Lebowski: The Worst Movie of All Time

I have since changed my opinion on this movie. I saw the Coen brothers films in marathon and gained a better understanding of the unique worlds they create. I now enjoy it, but I'll leave this here to remind me of my ignorance.

 If laughter is the best medicine, recommending The Big Lebowski to a terminally ill grandparent would be the equivalent to pulling the plug. What we have here is an incredible movie that transcends what can fall under the category of bad—a movie that raises the bar if you're hanging from it. Some say I exaggerate my claims when I say the The Big Lebowski is the most detestable film of all time, but they're mistaken. It's all true. I'd sooner send my son to fight an entire fleet of Nicaraguan druglords single-handedly than make him endure the two hours of hell on earth this picture so eloquently presents.

From the standpoint of cinematography it's brilliantly directed. Kudos, too, to a comedy receiving the writing and attention to detail most major pictures even fail to bring. Too often comedies are thought of as fodder and brushed under the industry's rug. After all, if comedy is the easiest entertainment to engage, it might by default be the hardest to perfect. Most get the treatment, costumes and care rivaling sketch comedy skits. Rarely would a movie leaning more toward humor garner consideration for any high prize or praise. Our society mistakenly considers the idea of enlightening the audience more important than entertaining it, failing to realize the formers full potential could never be reached without balance with the latter. So in order to proceed with the much-needed and more compelling negativity we've got to get the compliments out of the way: this comedy is shot well, paced well, and written well.


The execution is Lebowski's big failing. My disillusionment first started with reference to its cult status. If many others like what you like, odds are a common interest is worth looking into, if not a blind buy. Despite my cousin's warning that it's "about bowling" (read: it's boring), I went ahead and blind bought it for its attractive price, gambling it would lean toward good. Upon impulse buying some new entertainment you already want to like it, since it's tangible and cannot be returned. After an initial viewing I thought it alright, but the movie's evil, underlying tepidity eventually separated my brain's enthusiasm and optimism from its cold, sterile, iron-fisted reason—subduing one and highlighting the other. The end result was an eventual disdain for the picture's poorly-executed almost everything, and for its legion of loyal fans who quote and admire The Dude and co. as if it were ever in style.

This type of humor is specific enough to warrant a second viewing. "Perhaps you didn't get it," was the consensus. Some said this as if to suggest the style were elaborate enough to go over anyone's head. Upon second screening it was cemented, as suspected: there is nothing to get. The defining attribute in anything worth a damn in life has always been impossible to describe and more easily alluded to: it's not the notes, it's what's between them; read between the lines; it's not what is said but how it's said. There are enough clever lines in The Big Lebowski to make a classic. The execution fails not because it's dry or deadpan, but because it's vapid. The main characters act as if they're trying to get in on the joke instead of playing it straight and unwittingly being a part of them—a slight change that could've meant a saved movie. The Dude himself is one-dimensional, even for all his screen time and representation of a living cliche. He's padded evenly with a cast of cardboard characters who all slave to serve a central plot which, as mentioned, is purposeless.

There's an irony in painstakingly leveling out a plot just to showcase the eccentricities of people caught in it and the trivialities of their actions, that ends up working against the movie. It's not an irony the Coens meant to be caught, nor would it absolve anything, as trivialities, whimsy, and absurdity are their own justification when it comes to comedy. Humor can be bold in an absolute way rarely awarded in serious efforts, though I'll add boldness is usually an enveloped pushed too far. Most comedies die by the more is more mentality and go BoldX2. The Big Lebowski safely strays from this pitfall, at least on paper. The writing is far from a fault with this picture.


A flat, phoned-in delivery is a fault but also a symptom of excessive style. Everyone in the movie is imprisoned by their own gimmicks and indulgence of odd nuances. They're barely given room to breath and can only puppeteer the shallow corpses they should be shading with personality. Inexcusable, considering the working concept. The Coens created a plot centered around an admirable oaf. Few things could lend more easily to an endearing character than romanticizing an easy-going, apathetic, middle-aged dude who abides only to taking it easy. Unfortunately Dude's infectious personality might've spread to the to the Coens, cast and crew's overall approach. At the end of near two hours running time I felt inundated by style and distracted by smoke and mirrors.

For the purpose of furthering mankind I suffered through this picture a fourth time only yesterday. Viewing it didn't work with a clean slate, nor after studying every angle. Like a priest full of conviction about to enter the other end of the confessional, I asked even the most dark and damning questions, "Am I just bitter that this is what came after Fargo?" No, but there was something beyond. There was something outside easily identified mediocrity. There was more to it than the canned performances that shifted it from tepid to bad. Something lay behind the expertly controlled camera and frigid cast and catapulted this movie from no good to great disdain. Making up the remainder of that final inch could only be the film's fans.


Steve Albini has a gem of a quote that goes, "If you listen to music and all you get out of it is sound, I pity you." He speaks of a basic concept: no art is wholly separate from reality. As reality is always changing, that way we value and interpret said art will work likewise. Everything is subject to effect your perception of art. If you're Christian you might have a gripe with John Lennon's music after his "[Beatles are] bigger than Jesus" claim. Yeah, well, you know, this is just like, uh, my opinion, man, but when you're flooded in subpar movie quotes from types even less qualified to tell them, it begins to take a toll. Add its status as a coveted cult classic with a general overpraise overlooking its blandness and there's enough injustice there to create a flame. And bland describes the cinematic experience to a t. For the comedy's bogus entry onto IMDB's Top 250, there's not one laugh out loud moment. Its excess of quotable one-liners is more telling to its one-dimensional nature than its clever writing. It's far too meticulous in design to convey its carefree message.


I'm led to conclude the movie's greatest worth comes in the form of commodity—feigned appreciation for effect. It's a shiny object for a certain crowd to pull out and feel better about themselves; a tassel aiming to allure but only serving as a Litmus separating substantive from shallow; a decorative pin with no greater purpose than to point out hipsters; a mindless championing of the little crippled lamb that could. Being different is only admirable when it works. You know the joke sadly rests at your expense when you catch it being quoted by Veronica Mars. Liking something solely out of novelty might be Dude-like, after all.

Though I'm not sure exactly what drives this movie's affection, the cynic in me suspects it might be that the film itself exhibits the very mediocrity its protagonist passively accepts. Perhaps some are deluded under the idea that being bad on purpose makes something good. Jeff Dowd—the real-life Dude—seems to disagree with his depiction as a passionless burnout. He is in turn an ambitious man set on "living life to the fullest," which works in opposition to this movie's ideologies of indifference and glorifying blandness. The movie's message may be that it's alright not to want anything out of life, but the terrible consequence there, is with no flame to push you forward you're no longer alive.

46 comments:

  1. funny and well written as always, but for the sake of being annoying.

    http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ljrzgd3uwy1qhnavvo1_500.jpg

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  2. What you see as "vapid" behavior by the characters, lackluster delivery of lines, and one-dimensional characterizations could all be seen as a nod to the conventions of the film noir. This film, like other Coen Brothers films, has a melange of influences that converge to create a hybrid-genre film. Given the obvious influence of the genre of film noir on TBL, a proper critique of the movie has to take generic concerns with full weight. This you do not do. I think what you see as flat characterization is directly related to the noirish aspects of TBL. Whether these touches of film noir are meant as a mere nod of the head, parody, or fond homage to the genre, only the Coen Brothers know.

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  3. If only they know, isn't it their job to properly convey that intent? Or better still, to have the foresight to make the movie flexible and interesting enough even for those who don't get the references? I've seen a fair share of noir but don't see an overwhelming influence on this movie. Foremost, I'd agree with Ebert (in his Great Movies edition of the review) with the notion that this movie is about attitudes. The difference is he loved it (upon second viewing). I felt the crime/unraveling plot aspect of the movie was clever but didn't do much to lend toward the film's central purpose, in fact I felt it was at odds with it.

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  4. Bob the fantasticMay 26, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    You're fucking retarded.

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  5. A response well-suited for a Lebowski fan.

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  6. Bah...Can't remember one statement you made that was lucid. What a bunch of tripe. "Canned performances"! Characters are written in a script and Actors create the character. They are as written. As you stated...the writing is excellent, ergo, the acting is brilliant. You're just a Bum! Are you employed?

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  7. Even if I were unemployed and a bum it would make me more likable like His Dudeness, right? Comment: disqualified(!).

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  8. I want to rape your entire family while you watch. And then slit your throat. You're an idiot.

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  9. The truth causes great distress. I understand.

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  10. i hate this review because i disagree, but your responses are pretty funny

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  11. If you don't like a film don't watch it four times.

    I sincerely hope Zack doesn't go through with his slightly over-the-top threat.

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  12. The Big Lebowski is shit.

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  13. ...Shut up you idiot. This does not need to be over-thought to this extent, holy fuck.

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  14. Neither does comedy. That didn't stop the Coens.

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  15. The Sarcastic OneJune 16, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    Well, I disagree in many ways. I respect your opinion, hell, anyone can write their opinion, especially nowadays but saying that the movie is 'The Worst Movie of All-Time'? Sorry, dear sir, that is just silly. Have you ever seen something called 'Transformers 2'? Yeah...
    I liked the movie. I don't think it's perfect. Nothing is. Would I rank it in my 'Top 5'? No.
    Do I think it's a solid comedy? Sure as hell.
    There is a difference in hating the movie itself and the hatred towards the fanbase my dear friend.

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  16. I think your image with the forks describes it all.
    There are many who live in america and feel swallowed by fake culture. There are many who want to be different, maybe even those who want to affect change, but see how impossible it is. Unfortunately, in our world, the one thing we (slightly) have power over is ourselves. That is counterculture. People who defiantly live as themselves, regardless of their use to society. Their lives a tribute to what humans REALLY are, when not faking for forcing themselves into cookie cutters or what they are told is 'good or right'. This is the dude.

    Feel fortunate, sir, that some people choose to WATCH the big lebowski and see themselves as they could/would be, instead of LIVING/wasting their lives in this fashion. we laugh because we relate. Remember when you were a kid, or a time when the fight for the right to be yourself was the most important thing? Every character has that self-actualization. just themselves, screwed up, with no shame. Its fun to be on the outside and laugh. One needs the ability to laugh at oneself to enjoy these characters. Nobody knows the answers, we're all doing the best we can with what we have.

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  17. an amend to my last post.

    Sometimes while fighting what "we're supposed to be" people go a little overboard to fight for their right to be screw ups ("what we aren't supposed to be"): Counterculture: Characters from the Big Lebowski.

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  18. walmart goth...could you list a few comedies that you enjoy? I feel like a small child wandering into a movie...I have no frame of reference.

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  19. Knowing this is a bad idea, I'll bite. Off the top of my head: Mash, Peep Show, early Simpsons, Mel Brooks movies, Three Colors: White, Dr. Strangelove, Borat, Louie, Sideways.

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  20. "Every character has that self-actualization. just themselves, screwed up, with no shame. Its fun to be on the outside and laugh. One needs the ability to laugh at oneself to enjoy these characters."

    This is a good argument. That child-like desire please the id works out wonderfully in some movies (i.e. American Beauty). It's an amicable goal, but I don't think this one worked.

    I can't agree with the second half as a self-deprecating person who didn't laugh.

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  21. Transformers 2 was 1000 times the film that TBL was. Very few movies can bore like TBL. The likes of White Chicks delivers more humor.

    I gave TBL a chance, twice, and both times got at most a couple chuckles while the remainder of the time was pure tedium.

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  22. This review was so boring, I couldn't finish it. This normally doesn't happen to me. Last time it happened to me was midways through the book Ulysses.

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  23. "A flat, phoned-in delivery is a fault but also a symptom of excessive style."

    This perfectly describes this post. You said nothing worth reading and said it poorly. You wrote to see your words in writing, not to share any insights.

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  24. I feel so sorry for you ... :( Tried "Second glance"? I think you'd love it.

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  25. I like this movie because I disagree!

    You are sort of right, this movie as a whole is not that good, I find myself skipping through many scenes when rewatching. But the Bridges-Goodman scenes are just brilliant, I cannot get enough of those two discussing issues. This desire probably stems from a lack of real friends.

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  26. What kind of dick spends this much time trying to convince people that a 13 year old movie is not as good as they think it is. Get a life!

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  27. As the Dude himself would say... "Yeah? Well, that's just like... your opinion man."

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  28. You're correct. I settle for the whole.

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  29. You say many interesting things in your review and its refreshing to read an argument for a contrarian position on a much celebrated cult comedy.

    I myself am not a huge fan of the movie though I think its alright, but I dont think it's especially bad. I think Lebowski's comedy is of a lazy, offbeat, laid back style but its not a lazy comedy.

    "Upon second screening it was cemented, as suspected—there is nothing to get. The defining attribute in anything worth a damn in life has always been impossible to describe and more easily alluded to: it's not the notes, it's what's between them; read between the lines; it's not what is said but how it's said."

    (Emphasis mine)

    Maybe so. But have you considered the possibility that the movie, much like the Dude, is not trying to convey anything you'd get. The point of the movie, I think, is captured fairly succinctly right at the outset when the Stranger/ Narrrator loses his train of thought, while introducing the Dude, and admits to it. It's a little unfair to try to "get" a movie by reading between the lines, when it expressly claims it is not offering anything even in the lines, since the lines trail off and never quite trace any particularly solid plot.

    You also say elsewhere that the characters are trying to get in on the joke instead of unwittingly being part of it, which is exactly how the characters in a movie like Sideways, which you admit to liking, which is also a comedy I greatly like myself and the only one on your list that I have watched, may be better off being explicitly so, but it does not follow that a movie like Lebowski would be better served by more unwitting characters. Which is not to say that the characters in Lebowski are not unwitting, but that they are unwitting in the way the movie is conceived and executed i.e a little more surreal than a movie like Sideways.

    As for too much style, I again think the movie's surrealness lends itself to such overt stylizing more than other comedies.
    It may also create an impression of "one-dimensional" since particular styles may constrain any character fluidity beyond what meshes well within a thematic boundary.

    "Yeah, well, you know, this is just like, uh, my opinion, man, but when you're flooded in subpar movie quotes from types even less qualified to tell them, it begins to take a toll. Add its status as a coveted cult classic with a general overpraise overlooking its blandness and there's enough injustice there to create a flame."

    I can relate to how a cult of dogmatic fanbois, who're otherwise clueless, can be frustrating and seed a preconceived cynicism towards seeing great merit in the source of such clueless fanboism. But it'd be unfair to not consider Lebowski in its own light and let its cult status or rather a reaction against its cult status colour our perception very much when it comes to judging the movie's goods as opposed to its effects on culture.

    "It's far too meticulous in design to convey its carefree message.
    "

    I fail to see the necessary contradiction there that you insinuate. Why can't a film be meticulously scripted and executed to convey a carefree message?

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  30. SHUT THE FUCK UP, DRAGLINE!

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  31. Hyperbole alert!

    The worst movie of all time?

    No.

    The worst movie, in your opinion, that you've ever seen. That would be accurate.

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  32. I truly pity the soulless tit that authored this. What a horrible life you must lead.

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  33. Opinions are like assholes... everybody has got one.... (Platoon quote).

    Where would the world be without filmcritics. Errr... we would be better of.

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  34. You're a Big Lebowski hater, that's all right, man. But that makes your opinion as biased as a fan's opinion.
    The fact that you say this is the worst movie of all time but at the same time admit it's "shot well, paced well, and written well" proves my point. If you have a considerable knowledge of the world of film (as I suppose you might have, considering you're writing about it) I'm sure you know that most films don't gather even two of those features. So that clearly states that you wrote this review with a deadly fire burning inside your tingling heart. A hate for Lebowski's cult status and not an objective dislike for the movie itself.
    The fact that you watched four times a movie you disliked also makes it clear that you're kind of obsessed with it. Especially if you'd "sooner send [your] son to fight an entire fleet of Nicaraguan druglords single-handedly than make him endure the two hours of hell on earth this picture so eloquently presents". You know what, that's just wrong.

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  35. THISISWHATYOUGETWHENYOUF**KASTRANGERINTHEASSJanuary 14, 2012 at 4:36 AM

    Took me three viewings to 'get it' Now I can watch it anytime and know I'll laugh. The humor is way above one liners and obvious gags. It's just really funny.

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  36. I see the irony of the fork picture is lost on you. You think your opinion matters among hundreds of thousands, you're wrong. You're good at turning criticism into long-winded, negative and unreadable drivel though, I'll give you that.

    Anyone who begins their argument with "so-and-so is the worst movie ever" when, even if you don't like the movie, there is artistic endeavour to be found unlike a million other movies more fitting for the title, is a moron at best, and does not deserve a well thought-out response. This is why I'm merely pointing out the obvious rather than go in-depth about just how utterly subjective and irrelevant your criticism is.

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  37. Sometimes people claim to hate things simply because everyone else loves them. A 'friend' of mine once came out of a screening of The Matrix so angry, that he began to cry. Several months later I was amused and unsurprised to see the DVD in his collection. It was almost as if he feigned anger because he just didn't like it as much as he'd hoped. He felt cheated. I must admit I felt similarly when I saw Super 8 and Tintin. I had a bit of a rant, but would never claim either movie to be 'the worst ever made', which The Big Lebowski clearly isn't. To say there's nothing to get is merely to say you just don't get it.

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  38. Thank you, AtomX. I loved reading your post, but most would rather attack me than provide an argument so I gave up reading the comments here at some point.

    With this movie pointlessness is kind of the point. To its credit it's clever enough to be a movie open to interpretation, a quality rare in comedies. I don't like cynicism the sentiment offers, though. And that seems to be the lot of what its fans take from it.

    When you juxtapose the apathy of the plot and its characters with the level of detail that goes into the script, it becomes imbalanced. This wouldn't be a problem but in the movie you can see how contrived it all is every step of the way. I couldn't get lost in it. The characters were potentially great characters, but they were sketches without much flesh in the movie.

    Sideways is a good comparison to make. When I said Lebowski's characters are trying to get in on the joke, I meant the actors who don't seem to be fully connecting. Sideways' characters are immersed in their roles enough to suspend disbelief.

    To the last bit, as I described earlier, The Big Lebowski seems like it took a lot of effort and detail, but all those cracks are not blended well enough to make it anything more than a distraction when the movie's main point likely is its carefree message.

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  39. RE: everyone else.

    You basically read the title, got angry, then stopped reading at the first potentially contradictory that you could spew back at me (in a hamfisted manner).

    You didn't read to the end, and I cannot blame you, who has the patience to read anything longer than a Tweet.

    The general idea behind this writing was to experiment with a review where I admitted my approach to movie is entirely subjective, and also champion a belief that all movie reviews are entirely subjective. Everyone seems to think they are not, and they try with all their might to be objective, and that's why they're so irritating to read.

    And I understand this review is likely irritating to most because it's the opposite of that. We live in a world where if you asked someone why Citizen Kane is great, and they answered honestly, most would say, "Because I read it."

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  40. you say that the movie is crap..

    But..that like your opinion...MAN..

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  41. Agreed, the movie was well shot but that didn't make it a good movie. I found it dull and one dimensional too, the only thing that was different about it was "the dudes" chill pornstar attitude, the only reason I finished watching it tbh.

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  42. I just watched this film for the first time, and found your review from imdb.

    Its refreshing to see a review that matches my level of ambivalence to the film.

    On one hand, the dialogue is interesting, the cast shines and the film is visually engaging.

    On the other, I found the characters and the film in general somewhat - cold. If the emotional/intellectual depth of the film is between the dude and Walter, then i missed it.

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