With Joel and Ethan Coen‘s The Big Lebowski having opened 20 years ago (3.6.98), everyone’s celebrating the anniversary. I was an instant fan but I might be Lebowski-ed out, having seen it at least 14 or 15 times. I could still have fun with another viewing or two, I guess, but I know the dialogue and the performances too well. It’s kinda fun to watch it Rocky Horror-style, mouthing the dialogue in synch with the film, but everyone does that, right?
I first heard about the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the same Sundance Film Festival (January ’98) that Lebowski had its big sneak preview at. I felt awful about missing that screening; didn’t see it for another three or four weeks.
I’m starting to think that my favorite stoner comedy might be Curtis Hanson‘s Wonder Boys (’00). Back in my pot-smoking days I used to prefer what I called a nice “light stone” as opposed to being totally ripped. This is what Wonder Boys is — a subtle pot high laced with middle-aged whimsy and meditation. It’s goofy and trippy but embroidered with an aura of accomplishment or at least ambition, and therefore a whole different bird than Lebowski.
And it sure has its own atmosphere. Each and every Wonder Boys shot, it seems, is covered in fog and murk and Pittsburgh dampness, and it contains my favorite Michael Douglas performance to boot.
Alas, Wonder Boys was a financial bust — cost $55 million to make, earned $19 million domestic and $33.5 million worldwide.
Some of the critics who didn’t quite get Lebowski‘s lost-in-the-haze, stoned-humor, where-is-this-movie-going? spirit (including senior L.A. Times know-it-all Kenneth Turan, Variety‘s Todd McCarthy, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Edward Guthmann, The New Yorker‘s Daphne Merkin, Palo Alto Weekly‘s Susan Tavernetti, Chicago Reader‘s Jonathan Rosenbaum, Deseret News‘ Jeff Vice (“This uneven screwball comedy — a disjointed and half-hearted attempt by the Coen brothers to return to the Raising Arizona style — is bound to underwhelm even their most fervent admirers”) and the S.F. Examiner‘s Barbara Shulgasser) have recanted. But Turan isn’t one of them. He’s told the Washington Post‘s Eli Rosenberg that he hasn’t rewatched it and is sticking with his initial reaction.
I’m surprised to discover that Variety‘s Owen Glieberman, one of HE’s favorite critics, wasn’t that much of a fan either. His 3.6.98 EW review is at best a half-and-halfer. “Nearly everything in The Big Lebowski is a put-on, and all that leaves you with is the Coens’ bizarrely over-deliberate, almost Teutonic form of rib nudging,” he wrote. “It’s as if the film itself were standing off to the sidelines, saying ‘Look, isn’t this a hilarious concept?'”