“And yet, his kid is a fucking dunce…”
Picking a favorite character from The Big Lebowski, arguably the funniest movie ever made and inarguably the best stoner detective / Jewish veteran secuity system salesman psychedelic buddy noir western comedy ever made, would be like choosing which child of yours was your favorite–it’s likely doable, but you don’t want to piss off everybody else, and thinking about it for too long would probably give you a headache anyway. And even if I was forced to choose, it’s probably doubtful that I’d pick Larry Sellers –not in a movie with The Dude, Walter, Maude, Jesus, Jackie, Uli, Knox, and the Chief of Police of Malibu, among literally dozens of others vying for the title. So we’re not going to make this distinction here.
I will say, however, that Larry is by far the most economic character in the wide world of Lebowski. Like many of the movie’s other peripheral characters, he has just one scene to his credit–roughly 90 seconds of screen time–and like most of the movie’s other scenes, it’s some of the funniest shit you’re likely to ever see. But unlike most of the other supporting characters, who fill up their scenes yammering about goldbrickers and fixing the cable, Larry spends his entire tenure in The Big Lebowski totally mute. And not just audibly–throughout his 90 seconds, the character expresses absolutely nothing in any wayh whatsoever.
The character of Larry is introduced in another of the movie’s funniest scenes–when The Dude finds his D-grade report on The Louisiana Purchase (“Spelling,” “Use a Dictionary,” and “Who is He?” are his Social Studies teacher’s comments) in a crevice of his recently stolen car’s front seat. Deducing that Larry must’ve stolen the car–and the briefcase with a million dollars that The Dude left inside it–he and Walter decide to brace Larry, in the hopes of finding the missing money and meeting Larry’s father, Arthur Digby Sellers, who turns out to have been the primary writer for the TV show Branded.*
They show up at his house, and are let in by the Sellers’ confused but polite maid, who introduces them to the currently Iron Lung-bound Arthur and calls Larry to come downstairs. He does, and Walter and The Dude instantly start in with the questioning. As in most of the movie, the two their hand at being detectives, and fail miserably–despite their presented evidence (Larry’s homework assignment, neatly sealed in a Ziploc bag), their good cop / bad cop routine (with Walter improbably as the Good Cop, at least at first) and their multiple recycled threats (“We’re going to cut your dick off, Larry!”), Larry just sits there with a thoroughly blank look the entire time, totally devoid of any reaction. Even when Walter decides to go to “Plan B“–taking a crowbar to all parts of what he perceives to be Larry’s hot brand new car, while screaming the now classic phrase “DO YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS, LARRY? DO YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FUCK A STRANGER IN THE ASS!??!?!” (or “WHEN YOU FIND A STRANGER IN THE ALPS!??!?!,” depending on what channel the movie’s on)–Larry is totally unimpressed, emotionlessly observing the occurence from his living room window as if he were just watching the grass grow or an episode of What About Brian or something.
It’s not a terribly demanding performance, I suppose–though I imagine keeping the straightest face you’ve ever kept while John Goodman is making comedy history only a few yards away is probably at least somewhat demanding–but it’s one of the most perfect performances in the whole movie. It’s the Coen Bros’ snide commentary on the extreme detachment of kids from their surorundings during their teen years, and it’s spot fucking on–fact is, there are plenty of teens out there who probably would’ve reacted in a totally similar way to such a generally surreal experience.
I can’t help feel sort of bad for Jesse Flanagan, the actor who plays Larry, though. Not only did he go on to do almost as little the “Bitches, Man” kid from Say Anything (at least Flanagan has a minor role in Art School Confidential and a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle to his credit), but he can’t even really milk his Big Lebowski for much either. He’s got no cute quote, no funny expression, nothing to go on except that blank, deer-in-moderately-shaded-headlights stare. Even the stoner chicks probably aren’t too impressed with that.
Ah well, it’s still more than most of us could say. At the very least, he can probably parlay his definitive role into free White Russians and saspirilla at bars nationwide.
*By the way, for you TV acolytes out there like me that are too young to know without using Wikipedia, Branded actually was a real Western TV show (and the theme The Dude drunkenly sings in the back of a cop car later in the movie is its actual theme), but Larry Sellers wasn’t one of the writers, and the show didn’t run for nearly as long as Walter implies, lasting a mere two seasons.