Published on June 5th, 2020 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Because You’ve Seen “The Big Lebowski” So Many Times
Kim starts a new series where he takes an older classic–a movie that’s been watched to death–and recommends something similar but a little less familiar.
Let’s start off on the right foot by me saying that The Big Lebowski is a nearly unparalleled movie in modern times. I hold every piece of this strange film in the utmost regard. I am not here to tell you that I’ve found another movie just as good, or practically the same. I’m saying that I’ve found the closest thing to date, carefully observing potential cult movies for over twenty years. The question for today is: how many times can you watch a movie before you ask yourself, “What else can I watch that might satisfy my craving for more”? In the case of The Big Lebowski, I think I finally have a decent answer. It’s up to you to decide how close to the mark I’ve come.
The first time I saw The Big Lebowski, I walked out of the theatre feeling–and I just don’t get to use this word often enough–bemused. What the heck did I just see? Yeah, it was funny, but it was bizarre and subtle in so many ways, my first viewing didn’t immediately stick as having just watched a timeless movie. Then the VHS came out, and it was even more enjoyable the second time. The third, I was exhilarated, picking up more jokes, nuances and particles of absurd humour. The fourth and fifth times I saw it, I was laughing uncontrollably. Sound familiar? Maybe you had a similar experience, like so many of the now visibly prominent ‘achievers’. It’s no longer a secret that this movie is a huge cultural achievement in entertainment. It made people love the characters, quote the movie, hate the fucking Eagles, and pass that influence along to anyone who would listen. The following is now massive and, just as “nobody fucks with the Jesus!”, you shouldn’t mess around with the die-hard fans regarding trivia or details. Or (god forbid) get your quotes worded incorrectly. So let’s move on.
I’ve seen The Big Lebowski countless times, and I sometimes wish I could watch it again like I’d never seen it before. A couple of years ago, I watched The Nice Guys (2016). It felt like a guilty pleasure I was afraid to revisit, for fear that further inspection would reveal I have poor taste. It just didn’t immediately resonate as anything memorable. Last month, I watched it again–twice.
The Nice Guys stars Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe as unlikely partners in a modern(ish) tale of Hollywood film noir. Set in 1977, it’s definitely a period piece, but in 2020 so too is The Big Lebowski. I’m telling you from experience, 1991 looks a fuck of a lot more like 1977 than it does 2020. So, it’s of no consequence to the modern audience that each film is set in a different era. Are we going to split hairs here? Am I wrong? So begins the satisfying similarities between these movies.
Each film has a physical heavy (Crowe; Goodman) with anger issues prone to violent outbursts, and each is paired with a slightly displaced, booze-loving and hapless centrepiece to the whole affair (Gosling; Bridges). In The Nice Guys, a murder mystery replaces a kidnapping, but there are ties with each to the money flowing from the porn industry. There are goons out to thwart our protagonists/anti-heroes and, while the muscle is more menacing, the results are similar. Both films use many of the devices and basic elements of private investigator movies from the 1940s and 1950s to tell their story, but their placement in categorical history are obscured my the addition of colour and more modern clothing, vehicles and buildings.
There’s a lot of askin’ around, trying not to get beat up, and playing all sides. Mrs. Glenn could be Mr. Lebowski, Amelia could be Bunny, or even Maude, for that matter. Holly could be Donny, but only in the sense that she’s out of her element. Throwing the fish is peeing on the rug. There’s a bowling alley and a Jackie Treehorn type Malibu party that ends with the Dude –sorry, I mean March–having a bad day. A version of “they’re going to kiiiiilll that pooooor woman” comes into play, and there’s even a dream sequence that takes the audience by bewildered surprise. Both movies have nearly identical run times. The only thing that truly separates these two movies is the fact that The Nice Guys is more violent, but not to the extent that it can be taken seriously. There’s gun play, but with a lot of hilarious reactions. March (Gosling) makes sure that you see the ridiculous side of everything throughout the entire story, much like The Dude himself. It’s the third act of each movie where comparisons and uniformity diverge. I’d like to go into more detail to make my point more compelling, but that would take all the fun out this. Well, take all the fun out of this for you anyway.
When you’ve seen a great movie so many times that you can quote it front to back, you begin to ask the impossible. You ask, what can I watch that’s awesome, exactly the same as this movie, but completely different? You know, like A New Hope and The Force Awakens. The Big Lebowski and The Nice Guys are not the same movie, but it’s like they’re sharing a shadow. The Big Lebowski grossed about $46M on a $15M budget; not exactly a box-office juggernaut in the same year it was up against Titanic and Armageddon. Eighteen years later, The Nice Guys would do about $62M against a $50M budget the same year that saw Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory. Movies like the ones we’re discussing will hardly have a chance at the box office, and can only be immortalized through fandom.
I’ve provided an improbable answer to an impossible question; if you’re looking to satisfy your cravings for an alternative fix to The Big Lebowski, The Nice Guys deserves you viewing attention–probably more than once. You might not agree with me, but that’s just, like, you’re opinion, man.
Next week: Because You’ve Seen the Bourne Movies So Many Times