For the 2012 Super Bowl, Matthew Broderick reprised his role as Ferris Bueller for a Honda CR-V commercial where he skipped work instead of school — a self-aware update, with a much older Broderick pointing out that his playing sick was “one of the worst performances of my career.” In 2015, Esurance gave us Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, somewhat out of place behind a counter at a convenience store pharmacy. He appeared to be stealing Sudafed, or some other drug required for creating methamphetamine, but instead delivered a gravelly pitch for whatever it was Esurance was selling us.
Corporations hiring actors to bring back their most famous roles is a reliable way to get a flash of recognition from a Super Bowl audience eager to recognize stuff. Around January, there’s basically no other way to interpret the news that a fan favorite character may be coming back in some way. Last week, Jeff Bridges posted a short video in which he appeared as Jeff Lebowski, aka The Dude, the iconic protagonist from the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. Was this a teaser for a Lebowski sequel? A spinoff movie about John Turturro’s Jesus character? Of course not. This morning, The Today Show debuted a commercial starring Bridges as Lebowski, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. They’re appearing together to promote Stella Artois, naturally, as some text copy informs us at the end.
Of course, there’s more than beer going on here. Parker and Bridges participated in this commercial for the “Pour it Forward” campaign, a collaborative effort between Stella Artois and Water.org, co-founded by Matt Damon, to provide clean drinking water to underdeveloped countries. The actors chose to play these particular roles to increase the prospective audience, who might type in the URL teased at the end of the commercial to learn more about the campaign. (Probably not, but imagine for a second that you think like an advertising executive with an inordinate amount of faith in viewers.)
“El Duderino would want to do the right thing,” Bridges said in an interview. This might be true, though if we extend our understanding of The Dude’s character to its logical endpoint, it’s hard to imagine him taking a vested interest in something called Water.org, or participating in any sort of beer-associated charity initiative. It’s all too put-on for The Dude, one of the authentic countercultural icons of recent-ish memory. He’s supposed to keep it real, take it easy, and instill wise Dudeisms when he can. There’s no preachiness and no hawkish initiatives when The Dude is involved. He doesn’t hang out at the ritzy bars seen in the commercial; he’s supposed to be a visitor to these sorts of places, there to fill a role like helping a millionaire find his abducted wife.
You might hear The Dude’s voice floating in and beckoning us to not take this so seriously. But if they cared so much about water they would make a commercial about the water, and while perverting a beloved anti-authority character to push cheap beer is not a crime deserving a trial at the Hague, only the most dead-eyed, coke-brained corporatist could look at this and go, Very cool. The Dude loves beer, yes, but here the commercial makers can’t even stick to the character they’re exploiting: He orders Stella by its name, instead of “oat soda,” his preferred in-film nomenclature. Bridges may have decided to abide all this, but I can’t.