Review: "The movie is sprinkled with references to Jewish rituals - like pepper in gefilte fish - which, just from the sound of them, are meant to be hilarious," wrote Merkin, a critic and novelist who is no longer with the New Yorker. "While I have nothing against people making fun of other people's religions, there's something too easy - not to mention condescending - about the way it's done here. ... 'The Big Lebowski' is so drenched in knowingness - it pays homage to everyone from John Lennon to Theodor Herzl - that there's nothing really at stake. (Insofar as the movie is about anything, it's about the interface of bowling and Orthodox Judaism.)
"The film's sole gesture toward a narrative structure, for those who still require that sort of thing, is its tongue-in-cheek use of voice-over ... 'The Big Lebowski' lacks what even the most unhinged comedies must have in order to work: the recognition that out there, beyond the pratfalls and the wisecracks, lurks the darkness. ... The Coens can't be bothered - or perhaps they don't know how - to make a connection between what's inside their smart-aleck heads and the plodding, sometimes painful world in which the rest of us live when we're not at the movies."
2018 revision: "I think it is a quintessential insider movie, one that plays in this shrewd way to groupthink. You're either in on it, or you're not in on it," Merkin said by phone. "When I re-watched it, there were things I was more struck by. First of all, it's beautiful to watch with all that cinematography. The Busby Berkeley sequence. I was struck by all that. And think I was more amused by the intense laidback-ness that the film embodies. In some ways, the Dude and his disconnected dudeness has a certain appeal now, maybe because the world has grown more horrendous or reality is less bearable than when the film was made. I still think it's basically more of a guy's flick, than a woman's. And it probably helps to be stoned, which isn't my particular drug. But I did see that it had its virtues."
Merkin revisited her criticism of the film in the afterward for a new edition of one of its main fan guides, "I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski."
(The above undated photo shows shows David Huddleston, who played The Big Lebowski in the movie, with wife Sarah C. Koeppe. Huddleston died in 2016.)