There’s Something About Lebowski
Looking Back at Two of the Greats From '98
I would be remiss if I let the year end, and I did not write about two great movies from 20 years ago. Although, I know by the time I turn in this article and it is published, it will be 2019. I saw one of these movies in the theater, and from that moment I knew it was gold…I wasn’t wrong. Eight weeks after its summer release, it was back again at the number one spot in the box office. As for the other film, I didn’t see it in the theater, and neither did most people. It was largely dismissed at the time, but has since gained a cult following.
There’s Something About Mary
This is the funniest movie in the last 20 years, although I will accept an argument for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. However, don’t just take my word for it, even Roger Ebert agreed:
“What a blessed relief is laughter. It flies in the face of manners, values, political correctness and decorum. It exposes us for what we are, the only animal with a sense of humor. ‘There’s Something About Mary’ is an unalloyed exercise in bad taste, and contains five or six explosively funny sequences. OK, five explosive, one moderate. I love it when a movie takes control, sweeps away my doubts and objections, and compels me to laugh. I’m having a physical reaction, not an intellectual one. There’s such freedom in laughing so loudly. I feel cleansed.”
…And There’s Something About Mary certainly leaves you feeling cleansed.
A large part of the way I feel about it probably has to do with the way I saw this movie for the first time. (My best friend and I were hanging out for the first time in a long time.) After dinner and beers at Hooters (a very ’90s owl-themed restaurant), we decided to take advantage of a movie pass I got for test driving a car. The pass was good for two tickets to any 20th Century Fox movie.
We got to the theater (which in true Las Vegas fashion was in a casino), and I presented my pass to the clerk. “Can I get two tickets to There’s Something About Mary?”
The guy took my pass and looked at it, then told me to hang on a second. I said sure and talked with my friend some more. This being a Saturday night, the lines behind us grew longer and longer. At last, the guy returned and said to me, “So I talked to my boss, and he said you can only use this for a 20th Century Fox movie. You can only use it for There’s Something About Mary or The X-Files movie.”
I looked at my friend, and said, “Did I not just ask for one of those?”
“Okay,” I said to the clerk, “we’ll take two for There’s Something About Mary.”
I wish I could explain how truly funny the next 30 seconds were. Normally a ticket will pop up from the counter, and then the clerk tears it off and gives it to you. What happened to me, my buddy and the clerk was something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. The ticket shot out of the counter—literally shot into the air. After the clerk registered what happened to the first one, he tried to catch the second one, but it did the same thing and he was just too slow. He would only wrap his hands around empty air, which in true WB cartoon fashion, only seemed to shoot the ticket higher into the air.
Yes, I was in hysterics before I went into this movie, and looking around at the people behind me, I couldn’t believe no one else saw what my buddy and I had just witnessed. We walked into the theater wiping tears out of our eyes. The lights dimmed, the movie began, and then we were treated to an extended prologue detailing how Ted (Ben Stiller) met Mary (Cameron Diaz), adding laugh after laugh. Next, treating us with a wholly unexpected close up after Mary’s dad exclaims, “Well, how’d you get the beans above the frank?”
In my opinion, repeated viewings of this movie will only make this opening scene funnier. It is truly hilarious how cops and firemen just keep showing up to check out Ted’s injury. Then in a joke (which pays off later), you can hear Mary’s brother saying, “Franks and beans…!”
After the prologue ends, we find out Ted never got over his crush on Mary, and we learn he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about her for 13 years. Isn’t that sweet? Maybe Creepy? I’ll let you decide.
When Ted hires a P.I. named Pat Healy (played by Matt Dillon) to track Mary down, the movie definitely moves into stalker territory that could easily become uncomfortable. However, the Farrelly brothers play this movie for laughs, and along with Ted hiring Pat, there are many other elements of this movie that let you know the brothers are playing it for the ridiculous elements: Mary’s dog on speed, Mary’s dog in a a body cast…
Mary’s roommates cleaning house while on speed…and there are also the slew of other characters who have become so taken with Mary that they have become obsessed with her in the creepiest ways possible. The most memorable of them is Norm the pizza guy, who has created an entirely new identity just so he can become close to Mary.
Also, this is not to say anything about the “hair gel” Mary uses when she and Ted go on a date.
Yet, despite this movie’s gross-out scatological humor, and despite the creep factor in the guys who become obsessed with Mary, it is actually a very sweet movie—as are all of the movies by the Farrelly brothers who enjoy nothing more than turning our convents on our side and getting us to laugh with them at the things they find funny. Among them, is the fact that people with disabilities are not to be put on a pedestal because people with disabilities are just that: people, and some of them can be assholes.
Of course, there is the video that plays over the end credits, making light of some of the jokes and scenes from earlier in the film, which causes you to always think of “Build Me Up Buttercup” when you think of this movie.
Yes, in this film the Farrelly Brothers challenge are sense of comedy and are sense of taste, but this is far from being one of the movie’s weaknesses, it is instead one of its strengths.
The Big Lebowski
I do not remember the first time I saw this movie, but it was not in 1998. I don’t even remember why I decided I needed to buy it, but I own it now. Of these two movies, I would argue this one has had a larger cultural impact. After all, how many Mary film fests have you heard of? There are so many Lebowski fests that they are now listed by the city. Also, a quick search on Amazon reveals several Lebowski attire related items (the Dude’s sweater, t-shirts with quotes on them, bowling shirts, a party game, a wall calendar, and more than a few books (The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski, I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski , The Tao of the Dude, Two Gentleman of Lebowski, The Dude De Ching, Got Any Khalua: Collected Recipes of the Dude, The Big Lebowski and Philosophy, and also The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time).
To try and explain the plot of this movie is an exercise in futility—even Roger Ebert agreed (again).
“The Coen brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski’ is a genial, shambling comedy about a human train wreck, and should come with a warning like the one Mark Tain attached to ‘Huckleberry Finn:’ ‘Persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.’ It’s about a man named Jeff Lebowski, who calls himself the Dude, and is described by the narrator as “the laziest man in Los Angeles County.” He lives only to go bowling, but is mistaken for a millionaire named the Big Lebowski, with dire consequences.”
I won’t try to explain the whole plot, but I will at least set it up.
The Big Lebowski starts with Sam Elliot giving us a rambling voice over while following a tumbleweed across Los Angeles to the beach. We meet The Dude as he buys half and half at Ralphs, paying for it with a check as President George W. Bush and declares that Saddam Hussein’s aggression will not stand. (The Big Lebowski is set in the fall of 1991.)
When The Dude returns home from the grocery store, he is accosted by two men who claim they want their money, and when he fails to produce it, they pee on his living room rug.
“That rug really tied the room together, man” is an oft-repeated quote from this movie.
Indeed, there a lot of oft-repeated quotes in this movie because, as my dad said when I introduced this movie to him, “No one listens to anybody in this movie!”
He is not wrong.
After The Dude’s rug is peed on, he tries to get his money back from the other Jeffrey Lebowski, and then we meet Lebowski’s wife named Bunny, as well as one of the Russian nihilist that leads us to Maude Lebowski. After which we meet Jackie Treehorn, and don’t forget about little Larry Miller who steals The Dude’s car. Also, we have to mention Donny who really enjoys Slice (early ’90s remember!?). Oh, don’t forget about The Jesus and how important bowling is to this movie.
If you are confused and not quite sure where this is leading, that just means The Coen Brothers, who wrote and directed this movie, probably have you exactly where they want you. What does this movie mean? What is it saying? Well, that is for others to figure out (like all the contributors to The Big Lebowski and its philosophy). The Coen Brothers just want you to enjoy the ride. “Take it easy, man.” Have a Caucasian (which is Lebowski’s words for a White Russian) and some In-N-Out, or maybe you should go bowling and have an oat soda while you’re at it.
What’s an oat soda? Lebowski’s terminology for a beer, and The Dude prefers Miller Lite.
What kind of a movie is The Big Lebowski, you might be wondering? It is much like Seinfeld, which is a show about nothing, and this is almost a movie about nothing—except it is very much about something! Although, that something is very hard to find. It’s a lot like a noirish Raymon Chandler Philip Marlowe story told through the eyes of a man who goes to sleep stoned and starts the day with a Caucasian made with half and half or nondairy creamer (whichever is available). Above all else, it’s the story of a man…
The Dude is a man who was last sober so long ago he cannot clearly remember, and a movie about him does not exist in a linear fashion. It is a story told with fits and stops, as well as disjointed ideas and plot lines coming together—or maybe not at the end to leave the viewer with a feeling of…
More than anything else, The Dude abides, and if there is an easy philosophy behind this movie, behind The Coens and behind The Dude, it’s simply that:
The Dude abides.
Life is too short to take anything too seriously, so when it starts to get to be too much, the best advice might just be to say, “Fuck it,” and go bowling.
Order an oat soda.
As well as a Caucasian.
And stop for some In-N-Out on the way home.
You catch my drift, man.
The Dude Abides.
Until next time,