I'll never really be sure I understand what the Coen Bros. were thinking with this one. That's not to say it doesn't work, but it's an odd bit of noir-detective, what with our detective in this mystery barely participating, a cowboy narrator and all the bowling. At the end of the day, it's really a movie, I guess, about two very different guys who love and understand one another not just despite their differences, but because of them. Maybe.
The movie certainly leans on the trappings of the Chandler or Hammett detective novel, which - 20 years after the fact, would get associated with noir detective movies, mostly thanks to the success of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe adaptations. There's the wealthy, non-ambulatory older gentleman in his castle asking for assistance, a sexy ice-queen of a daughter with schemes of her own, third and fourth parties working at cross-purposes, niggling idiots who cross the path of our detective who just get in the way, and repeated blackouts for our hero.
But, really, all our hero wants to do is go bowling and get a replacement rug for his living room.
It's a movie that indulges itself in whatever the filmmakers seemed to feel like doing. Elaborate dance numbers, wacky dream sequences, stunningly on-point dialog, a theme song to an imaginary western TV show from the 50's and 60's, and terrible fake porn. Maybe a necessary release after the restraint of Fargo.
I don't need to write much on this movie. It's been a cult classic for years, so much so that I often think I've seen it more than I actually have. I don't have the scenes on tap in my mind to anticipate them, but I do enjoy them all the same again as the plot unfolds. (And one of my favorite gags in the film is when The Dude tries the trick he's seen in movies and tries to copy the note he saw Jackie Treehorn jot down during a phone call - a great short appearance by Ben Gazzara - and it doesn't really work out.)
You can't really discuss the movie without discussing a few things -
The Dude is a singular character, and I am very pleased that no one has really attempted to do a knock-off of the character that I've seen - because I can see a fairly terrible TV show running for years on USA all about The Dude solving crimes by accident. But there must have been more of The Dude in Jeff Bridges than any of us really realized, because he's been sliding ever further into Dude-ness since the release of the movie, including his role in Tron 2 and his "what is he doing?" commercials for Squarespace that ran during the Superbowl.
And John Goodman as Walter Sobchak. Holy @#$%. It's so unfortunate that John Goodman isn't really seen for the stunning actor he is. I'm not sure he transforms himself in the way you can say Meryl Streep does again and again, but he's so damn good in whatever he does, and the Coen Bros. have always known how to use him exactly (we should talk Inside Llewyn Davis sometime).
But the entire cast is so weird, from Tara Reid to Flea to Philip Seymour Hoffman to Jimmie Dale Gilmour for some reason. Hell, Aimee Mann shows up for no good reason for one scene.
If you want to go for a bonus round, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges are currently reteaming in Seventh Son, a fantasy movie I shall wait to see with the inevitable Rifftrax.
I'm not sure I appreciate the movie on the same level as people who attend the regular quote-alongs or who have made being The Dude into a lifestyle (one of whom works for me), but it's a worthy entry in the Coen Bros. library.