I didn’t get to see this Coen brothers cult comedy upon its release in 1998, partly because a film critic I more or less trusted gave it a tepid review – this was back in the dark ages of dial-up internet when I only just tiptoed into the world of online film criticism. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t watch it then, because it took me a while to really “get” the Coens and their brand of offbeat humour. I remember watching Fargo and thinking, meh I can’t see what the fuss was all about, whereas now I’d probably appreciate it more, so here’s another movie on my re-watch list.
Jeff Bridges plays the Dude, a laid-back unemployed slacker in Los Angeles who demands very little of life indeed outside of pot, White Russian drinks and bowling games with his equally eccentric buddies. He also favours comfortable casual wear and has to be one of the most shameless manspreaders in cinematic history. One day a pair of goons invade his house mistaking him for a millionaire who happens to bear the same name; they realise their blunder but not before one of them urinates on the Dude’s carpet. Deciding that it’s only fair to ask for compensation, the Dude visits his loaded namesake and gets sucked into a whirlwind plot involving kidnapping, three Germans with a pet marmot and the millionaire’s loopy daughter (Julianne Moore).
The story is really more of an excuse to hang around with a bunch of fun wacky characters and for Coens to display their knack for visuals and dialogue. There’s an inspired bit of weirdness when the Dude hallucinates surreal bowling-inspired worlds, and a rather queasy shot from within the rolling bowling ball. Jeff Bridges’ turn as the Dude has become iconic and it’s easy to see why; it’s such an effortless, relaxed yet detailed performance and you can’t help but love a character who remains so chilled, amiable and Buddha-like in the face of mishaps life throws at him. No matter who he interacts with, he is always himself. John Goodman is also pitch-perfect as Walter, the Dude’s friend and his polar opposite, a proud Vietnam veteran who can get aggressive and volatile, especially when people around him disrespect the rules. Their partnership makes for one of the funniest chalk-and-cheese pairings in recent memory. Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and Philip Seymour Hoffman also pop up in hilarious supporting roles. It’s a movie that has oodles of love for its characters and the kind of loose shaggy charm that makes you forget that not much actually happens and the loose ends just sort of flap there. It’s a hard kind of movie to pull off successfully but the Coens are masters at it.