Getting ‘Serious’ With ‘The Big Lebowski’ In Today’s Sick Day Stash

Call them “cult classics.” “Guilty pleasures.” “Comfort movies.” We all have a mental rolodex of flicks that may not be terribly popular but, for one reason or another, they resonate in a very special way. Maybe you saw it at the right moment. Maybe you just see gold where everyone else sees feces. Whatever the case, these are the special favorites that you keep stashed away for sick days. Here are some of ours.

I saw “A Serious Man” last night. It was excellent. Better than that even. Joel and Ethan Coen have wrangled quite a few star-powered talents into quirky, offbeat roles over the years, but “Serious” excels even without a George Clooney or a Jeff Bridges in your face for the whole time. It is easily my favorite effort from the brothers Coen since “The Big Lebowski.”

What’s funny to me now is, I didn’t even care for “Lebowski” the first time I saw it. Welcome to this week’s Sick Day Stash.

I missed “Lebowski” in theaters. The buzz escaped me for the most part. I was certainly into seeing more from the Coens after “Fargo,” “Raising Arizona” and guaranteed future Sick Day Stash fodder, the Sam Raimi-directed “Crimewave” (criminally underrated, that). “Lebowski” slipped by though.

I didn’t see it until it was out on video. I rented it one evening, settled into bed after a long day of work and fell asleep roughly a third of the way in. I remembered a few flashes the next day… bowling, shomer Shabbos, a car crash and White Russians. Nothing stuck though.

It was awhile — a few months at least — before I saw it again. It was daytime at least, so no danger of falling asleep, but I was ambivalent after round one. I can still remember what made everything click for me. “Hey, nice marmot.” Those three simple words, Jeff Bridges’ laid-back delivery — The Dude, as ever, abides — and suddenly, it all made sense.

Here we have a movie which is essentially about nothing. It’s an urban America-set absurdist fairy tale filled with delightfully odd characters and nothing to really drive them forward beyond the inexorable march of time. Sure, there’s a story to tie the events together, but as we learn at the end, it’s just a big red herring. Really, “The Big Lebowski” is just a Coen-colored slice of life, and it is all the more hilarious for it.

“A Serious Man” feels like it was created in much the same vein, only with a decidedly community-oriented twist. I don’t want to turn this post into a review of the new release, but there is an undeniable connection between it and “Lebowski.” I’m not sure that every fan of the earlier effort will appreciate this one, but to me it is an evolution. The absurdity remains, as does the meandering plot, but the action, the dialogue and the craft behind it all is sharper and more focused.

Are you a fan of the Coen brothers? What is your favorite of their movies? What was your initial reaction to “The Big Lebowski”? Do you plan to check out “A Serious Man”?