Michael Fassbender as The Dude? Patton Oswalt as Walter? Jennifer Lawrence as Maude? Mae Whitman as Donny? Dennis freakin Quaid as the real Lebowski? Mike Judge stepping in for Sam Elliott as deep voiced, wise-ish narrator? It shouldn’t work, right? On a humid Friday night in Montreal, a live reading with the aforementioned culprits happened and it DID work, gloriously in fact. All part of the 33rd edition of the Just For Laughs festival.
The Coen Brothers classic is a peculiar film, one greeted with mixed to divisive reviews upon its release, yet gaining a rich cult following over the years and comedy classic status — a fate I sure hope their much maligned but underrated “Burn After Reading” will one day get. The live reading this past Friday night was greeted with buzz — tickets sold out quickly once Lawrence was announced, and the show was moved to a bigger theater. But if there was any reason why these now iconic live readings created by Jason Reitmam were created, it was to read a Coen Brothers script. Those kooky brothers have a flair to their dialogue that is second to none and is brought to life on a stage setting.
Patton Oswalt brought a whole new layer to John Goodman’s deranged, Shabbos-observing vet, and every time he spoke the crowd went nuts. He brought out the iconic, anger-driven performance of the original character. At every “shut the fuck up Donny”, the crowd couldn’t hold still, hollering and cheering the legendary line.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was the fact that Michael Fassbender was actually smoking joints rolled up by Jennifer Lawrence on stage. One joint after another was lit up as Fassbender brought out a whole new meaning to the term “method actor”. Lawrence, a self proclaimed “Lebowski fan”, seemed to be happy to just be there. Her Maude had a scant amount of dialogue and she seemed to struggle with some of more high brow Maude words, such as satyriasis, but just hearing her struggle to utter the word “Vaginal” was worth the over 2-hour wait to get into the 700 capacity Olympia theatre.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the, as of then unannounced, actor who would play the wheelchair bound Lebowski. None other than Dennis Quaid was introduced as the audience went batshit crazy when 61-year-old actor made his way onstage. Quaid not getting nominated for “Far From Heaven” is one of the biggest crimes in recent Oscar history.
Mike Judge, the creator of “Silicon Valley”, did a great job emphasizing the deep monotone voice of the narrator of the film. The man behind “Office Space”, another cult classic in the same vein as Lebowski, used his skills of impersonation and sounded exactly like Sam Elliot. The rest of the cast was filled up by actors from HBO’s brilliant TV series “Sillicon Valley”. In fact, the day after the live reading I attended a Q and A with the entire cast of that show, which only made me appreciate the actors and writing even more.
Mae Whitman also shone. A female playing Donny was a risky endeavour, but the “Parenthood” actress made it work so well. The loose, liberal, almost European-esque atmosphere the city of Montreal brings was clearly felt by the actors, who were so high and inspired on stage that you almost forgot about the original incarnators of the film. Drinks and joints kept flooding the stage as the actors tried to get the loose vibe of the Coen film right.
The Coen dialogue has aged well, and so has the inspired lunacy that drives the film. We didn’t need Fassbender, Lawrence, Quaid and Co to remind us of that, but the night I and 700 others witnessed on Friday night was mighty in abidance to The Dude. The lineup outside was a what’s what of Dude-ism: smoking joints, reciting famous lines, and even bringing bowling balls on a Shabbos night of all nights. 17 years after its release, it felt like the Coens created a monster.