Published Jul 25, 2015Few caper comedies have captured a true fan base quite like The Big Lebowski. There have been countless festivals and theme nights since its release in 1998, catering to these loyal followers who spout quotes while adorned in Dude robes. You could even say Lebowski is a movie-maker's movie, dearly loved by those who practice the craft. This is probably why Jason Reitman chose to include it in his wildly popular Live Read series during Just For Laughs Montreal.
Outside of Montreal's historical Olympia Theatre, there are bowling shirts and several pluming joints, and undoubtedly more than a few White Russians ("Caucasians" to you super-fans) were imbibed on this night. The lineup curls around several blocks, and the energy is high. These people adore The Big Lebowski, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more receptive audience during the entire festival.
As Reitman hits the stage, his pleasantries are short. He is appreciative, but wastes no time in getting to his cast: Mike Judge is The Stranger; T.J. Miller is Brandt; Martin Starr is Jesus; Olivia Munn is Bunny; Mae Whitman is Donny; Jennifer Lawrence is Maude; Patton Oswalt is Walter; Michael Fassbender is The Dude; and Dennis Quaid is Lebowski. Even if you don't care for this film — and if you don't, I've never met you — the excitement is palpable. You're on board, no matter what. And it delivers. As Reitman reads direction, the first thing you notice is what a tight and beautiful script it is. For film lovers, this is one of the coolest things about the Live Read experience. It provides a new clarity to the story, which was never really needed in the first place. It makes you want to watch it again, maybe twice. It is a masterpiece.
The depth of talent on this stage can be felt before anyone utters a word. You get the feeling you're witnessing something incredibly rare — and that's true. Fassbender's The Dude is sincere with his own mellow spin, but tonight it feels like the standouts are Patton Oswalt and T.J. Miller, which is interesting to see. You never tire of Patton yelling "Shut the fuck up, Donny!" to Mae Whitman (who is also doing a great version of Steve Buscemi's original role), and T.J.'s Brandt is splendidly apprehensive. It becomes clear why these two get the amount of voice work they do. Dennis Quaid is a treat. His Lebowski is grizzled, and he often has the comedians on the panel in stitches — no easy feat. Even when things go off the rails (Munn accidentally reads Lawrence's first Maude line — in her defence, it was highlighted), the crowd loves it. It's a can't miss scenario, even when it doesn't work.
In the end, this is still simply a table read. It's loose and fun, but when it's over, few in the audience are pining for more. But this once-in-a-lifetime ensemble, much like the film's MacGuffin, really tied the room together.