Poster for the movie 'The Big Lebowski,' 1998.
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By Lily Rothman
July 10, 2015

Starting Friday, Louisville, Ky., will be host to the 14th annual Lebowski Fest, a super relaxed celebration of The Big Lebowski, the 1998 Coen Brothers classic.

The fest’s longevity is evidence that the movie inspires devotion both extreme and enduring. But, when it was first released, the reaction was somewhat more subdued.

TIME’s critic Richard Schickel found that while The Big Lebowski had its high points, it was far from the filmmakers’ best work:

Since the mental calendar of filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen is often turned back to the 1940s, Dude is a shambling version of Philip Marlowe, the incomprehensible plot and the all-too-comprehensible visual references homages to the film-noir tradition–as if we needed more. Happily, however, the Coens have established a tradition of their own: deeply weird characters (let John Goodman’s great portrait of one of those paranoid know-it-alls who actually know nothing stand for the mad multitude this movie contains) embedded in profoundly banal settings (much of the film is set in a bowling alley). So even when they don’t achieve the glorious farce of a Fargo, there is always something fascinating about following the Coens’ rapt gaze as they peer into the American nut bowl.

Read the full review, here in the TIME Vault: A Bit Off Their Game

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