Look, I’ll be the first one to proclaim that The Big Lebowski is one of the funniest movies ever made. I will be that person. But you know what? I think Jeff Bridges has graduated from The Dude. He’s not The Dude anymore. He’s been on fire over the last few years, and it all (re)started with Crazy Heart.
What a beautiful, simple story tucked into two hours. We’ve seen it before—the tired musician who gets a pick-me-up and a life makeover thanks to an intriguing muse and a near-death experience or two. But we’ve never seen it told so honestly, so un-glamorously. And Jeff Bridges is one of the masters of normalcy. He possesses this unique charm that’s real, sometimes inconsistent, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes forgetful, and all of those things make him so believable no matter what character he plays. He bumbles along without being weak, he oozes talent as a famous country singer without being a pathetic wash-up, and he appeals to basically any audience as a strong man, a good father figure, and a natural badass. No wonder he won the Oscar for this role.
It’s not just his presence in the movie that makes it, though. His character, Bad Blake, reminded me a lot of Ennis Del Mar from Brokeback Mountain, in the sense that he was confined by his words. The difference is, Bad Blake was suffering in public, showing his alcoholism to whoever happened to be around to watch. Plus, he was able to express his feelings in the form of beautiful, money-earning songs. So he’s less of a tragic figure than Ennis, but he still has that same laconic air about him. I think the two cowboys would have been friends if they had ever met.
Bad Blake’s progression—and I say progression instead of story because it seems unfinished to me—is an inspirational one but, again, not one full of glitz and sparkles and fake Hollywood-induced triumph. In fact, his inspiration, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her adorable son, Buddy, aren’t even that profound in his life. He doesn’t see them that often, and he doesn’t even (SPOILER ALERT) end up with her at the end of the movie. But he finds some truth in their relationship, even if it’s temporary, and he learns to relish that experience and turn it into another hit song. He also uses that connection to feel better about himself and get back on the wagon, even if it’s not for her in the long run. Bridges and Gyllenhaal have an unconventional but surprisingly believable chemistry in this movie. It’s sweet, more than anything.
I really did love hearing Bridges sing, too. He drummed up some kind of presence with a mic and a guitar, and his voice made me wish he’d actually record an album. Colin Farrell was impressive, too, as an up-and-coming country superstar. But I think my favorite part of the movie was Robert Duvall as the unassuming bar owner and friend—what a career that man has had. I never thought I could picture him as the old dude next door, but he most certainly was.
This movie is a perfect example of the profundity of relationships, even if they’re passing. It’s a quiet, moving story, and by the end of it, you won’t even remember that Bridges once wore jelly shoes and a robe.