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Movies of 1998 Bracket Game: There’s Something About Mary Vs. The Big Lebowski

1998 is right in the middle of an era in cinema that I have great affection for. The success of former video store employee Quentin Tarantino had been hugely influential and motivated a general expanded interest in independent film and in the value of both movie trivia and the expertise of your local hole-in-the-wall movie rental clerk. Many of the bigger studios had scrambled to put together projects and promote filmmakers who would help to bolster their street credibility and make them seem in tune with the times. While at moments this resulted in some movies that only had the markers associated with the sort of stuff they thought we wanted to see, but none of the genuine connection with the material that had made it interesting to begin with, I’d say the overall result was positive. Creative and idiosyncratic efforts were more likely to get the green light, and I consider that to be a good thing. At the same time, we were still getting a lot of very mainstream movies with pretty varied results, which served to remind us both of the value of earlier studio approaches and of the corporate malaise that independent films were in part a reaction against. It was a fine time to be a movie fan.

It wasn’t until I had the bracket set that I realized There’s Something About Mary is kind of a rom-com. Well, the Dude has Maude Lebowski, right? Let’s take a gander at these two zany comedies made by brothers about characters in over their heads.

Yesterday’s rom-competition resulted in what I considered a surprisingly easy win for Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer. He and the rest of the sweet cast will be facing the winner of today’s match in the second round.

There’s Something About Mary is the signature movie made by the Farrelly brothers, Bobby and Peter. The pair made a name for themselves based on the success of their first movie Dumb and Dumber, for which they inexplicably received no on-screen credit. By the time they were making There’s Something About Mary, the brothers were well-known enough that there was little resistance to getting the movie made apart from football player Steve Young turning down a role due to the lewd nature of some of the rest of the material in it. Young was memorably replaced by Brett Favre, and they even got an extra joke out of it. Critics who had been split on Dumb and Dumber were much more enthusiastic this time around, perhaps because they knew what they were in for before walking into the screening. Both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were complimentary toward the movie, with the latter actually including it in his list of the top ten movies of the year. The moviegoing public appeared to agree with them, because There’s Something About Mary steadily built on word of mouth and eventually became the number one movie at the box office in its ninth week of release, staying in the top ten for a remarkable fourteen weeks. It helped boost its stars Ben stiller and Cameron Diaz into the ranks of bankable leads, and honestly should have done more for Matt Dillon, too. It’s one of those rare silly, tasteless, and raunchy comedies that a ‘serious’ lover of cinema can admit to enjoying without being judged. Even now, I’m regretting that I might have to vote against it here in the first round. This is a tough one.

The first time I saw The Big Lebowski I thought it was a mildly entertaining trifle, but by the time I’d completed a second viewing I was already fully devoted to its madcap world of losers and misplaced egos. Joel and Ethan Coen’s spoof of traditional Los Angeles-based noir was not initially a hit with movie-goers, but once it hit video, The Big Lebowski began to become one of those movies that is extremely beloved and personalized to its biggest fans. Just four years after the film’s release, an annual “Lebowski Fest” began being held in Louisville, Kentucky and has since expanded to other cities, including a similar “The Dude Abides” event held in London, England. These events bring together fans from all over for bowling tournaments, trivia contests, costume contests, and other social gatherings. In 2005, fans of the movie even began a faux religion based around the philosophy of the Jeff Lebowski character, called “Dudeism” which draws some of its parodic strength from sounding a little like “Taoism.” The film is popular enough that a spinoff movie based entirely on the pederast character played by John Turturro has been filmed without the Coen’s participation and appears to currently be in post-production. In addition to being an expansion on the Jesus Quintana character, the film will be a remake of and share the title of Bertrand Blier’s 1974 movie Going Places, which was centered around the story of three sexually depraved characters. Although this new film will not include any other characters from The Big Lebowski, the cast does feature well-known actors Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, Susan Sarandon, and Sonia Braga.

Which set of seriously flawed goofs still live in your head and which are going to be getting an eviction notice? Vote right here and then hash out your decision in the comments section!

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Posted on January 22, 2018, in Bracket Game, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Like both a lot. But gotta go with the Dude.

    When I saw Mary during its original theatrical run, I was roaring with laughter throughout the whole movie. The whole audience was. The shock value and the pure audacity of it made it work well.

    Today, while I still admire the audacity and enjoy the sweet love story at the core of it, it isn’t quite the major laughfest it once was. In some ways it isn’t surprising. A lot of the humor in it was dependent on shock value and once the shock wears off, it isn’t as effective. No, the wine hasn’t turned into vinegar. But it isn’t quite as high on the laff-o-meter as it was in 1998.

    The Big Lebowski I saw on video not long after it made its way to blockbuster. I found it to be okay. But nothing special. 20 years later I count myself among the cult of major fans of the movie. It isn’t quite my top Coen Brothers movie (both Raising Arizona and Fargo top it). But it’s one movie I can put on at any time and enjoy.

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    • I hadn’t thought of this pairing in that way, but I think you’re right. Something About Mary might be the better first time experience, while Lebowski may do a better job in being a long term pleasure. Another of the Coen brothers’ films, Inside Llewyn Davis, is the sort of movies that I can just throw on when I’m doing other things and enjoy catching whatever parts of it are on when I stop to pay attention. I think their world building is a big part of this for both movies (and indeed for many movies on their resume).

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      • Right on the world building part. Another of their films that falls into that category would be A Serious Man. When I saw it, my initial reaction was that it may have been the most simultaneously hilarious and depressing movie I had ever seen. Today, I see it as a metaphor of sorts for the dark comedy that life often is.

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  2. I am throwing a vote to Something About Mary although I admit it doesn’t quite hold up to repeated viewings. I remember seeing it at a sneak preview with a packed audience. We were all wiping tears from our eyes. The next weekend when it opened for real, I dragged some friends out to see it and enjoyed the entire packed house experience again. It loses a lot when you’re watching it in your living room and you know all the jokes, but the Dude isn’t going to miss my vote.

    Confession time: The Big Lebowski is over-rated. The first time I saw it, I was pretty disappointed in it. Coming off Fargo, Lebowski just seemed like silliness for the sake of being silly. I don’t object to that, but I was hoping for more. I have come to appreciate TBL on repeat viewings, but I don’t get the cult that has been built up around it.

    No matter who wins this one, I will have a mildly difficult choice in the next round.

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  3. I know I’m in the minority, but to be completely honest I harbour a profound hatred for There’s Something About Mary. It’s one of the most offensively stupid movies I’ve ever seen. Generally I do enjoy Farrelly movies, Kingpin and Shallow Hal still generate a fair amount of chuckles with me, but Mary… I guess I just don’t get it. I remember my brother roaring with laughter and I just sat there kind of nauseated.. It’s just not my cup of tea. I tried watching it three times, and all three times I ended up walking away or just turning it off. Oh well…

    The Big Lebowski on the other hand is an all-time favourite of mine, I’m a huge fan. I might even go so far as to call it my favourite Coen movie, tied with Fargo.

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    • This highlights a basic truth. When it comes to comedy one man’s trash is another’s treasure.

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      • True! And like I said, I know I’m the odd one out here. It’s obviously a popular and much liked movie. 😊

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        • There’s Something About Mary is the very definition of “not for everyone”. I can’t blame anyone for not liking it. I was a little embarassed how much I laughed 20 years ago and even more so now. As forever1267, we’re living in more PC times. I don’t think there is anyway TSAM would get made today. Not at a studio anyway.

          Potentially controversial opinion: Few actresses could have pulled off the Cameron Diaz part. She anchors the movie with a mix of beauty, relatability and sweetness.

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        • It can be embarrassing. I remember hearing one of my college teachers talking with disapproval of people laughing at it. Problem was, he acted like people were laughing during say Schindler’s List.

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  4. As much as I love Mary, and as funny as it is, The Dude abides.

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  5. While I do not rate The Big Lebowski as highly as some do, for me middle-of-the-pack Coen Brothers trumps any Farrelly Brothers.

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  6. Boy, Mary is just getting pummeled here. Is it too early to predict the Dude abides over the entire contest?

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  7. I just rewatched TSAM and it does still hold up for the most part, although the cringe factor is much higher i our politically correct status these days. It has a sweetness to it, though.

    I haven’t seen TBL since 1998, but it does show up all over the Internet. I don’t remember anything about it, and watching that trailer did not remind me of it, either. (And that spin off sounds very odd!)

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  8. A tough call for me…TSAM has plenty of stupid jokes, but is perfectly balanced by giving us a sweet romantic storyline. Audiences are always rooting for the Ted/Mary relationship, even as they are doubled over with laughter. As much as I love TBL and its world of quirkiness, it does not have the emotional impact of TSAM. And I have to give TSAM bonus points for casting cult musician Jonathan Richman as its singing Greek Chorus!

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