‘The Dude abides’: Saturday night’s ‘Viva Lebowski’ event could be the biggest yet

Participants in the 2011 Viva Lebowski event. (Photo used by permission from Viva Lebowski)

Participants in the 2011 Viva Lebowski event. (Photo used by permission from Viva Lebowski)

If Dave Cousins isn’t careful, he might get mistaken for Jeffrey Lebowski. And the last time there was a case of mistaken identities involving a Lebowski, hijinks ensued.

“I’ll watch this movie once a month,” said Cousins. “People who really know will hear me pulling Lebowski quotes into my everyday life, and I don’t always realize I’m doing it.”

The movie, of course, is 1998’s “The Big Lebowski,” in which hero slacker and avid bowler Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski is attacked by hired thugs who mistake him for millionaire Jeffrey “Big” Lebowski, whose wife owes their boss money. The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, then gets wrapped up in a comical and convoluted kidnapping caper alongside his high-strung buddy Walter Sobchak, played by John Goodman.

Long after mixed reviews and mediocre box office numbers, “The Big Lebowski” has gained a second life as a pop culture religion of sorts, with annual Lebowski Fests being held around the country and becoming pilgrimage sites for thousands of fans in costumes.

In Lebowski Fest Boston in 2009, Cousins was named “Best Dude,” in case his bona fides were unclear.

On Saturday night, Cousins won’t be the only local you might mistake for Lebowski.

About 200 people will file into Easy Day restaurant and bowling lounge in South Portland looking like the colorful characters of the 1998 Hollywood cult favorite “The Big Lebowski.”

There will dozens of “Dudes” and bunches of “Bunnys.”

Since 2010, Cousins has been organizing spin-off benefit events in Portland under the banner of “Viva Lebowski.” His Viva Lebowskis have routed ticket proceeds to a local baker suffering from multiple sclerosis as well as American Heart Association and United Way chapters in the area.

This year, Cousins has chosen the Alzheimer’s Association of Maine to benefit from the event, which will run from 8 p.m. to midnight on Saturday.

But if spending a Saturday night bowling while dressed up like “the Dude,” Sobchak or Tara Reid’s trophy wife character “Bunny Lebowski” — or any number of other quirky characters — sounds like fun to you, you may already be out of luck this time around.

“We’re looking at 200 tickets to sell this out, and we’re at 185 [sold] now,” Cousins told me this afternoon. “If we get even a little bit of foot traffic, we’re done. Which is great — I can’t wait to shut those doors.”

Tickets cost $20 each, and Cousins said the event has attracted donation traffic above and beyond ticket sales. Tickets buy entry into the event, access to the silent auction and a screening of the movie, as well as a string of bowling — 10 frames.

He said an attendance of 200 would mark Viva Lebowski’s biggest year yet.

“I don’t look at so much as ‘How much did we raise?’ but rather as ‘Did people enjoy themselves and walk away with a little bit more understanding of what Alzheimer’s is about?’,” Cousins said. “People are really gravitating toward it, because Alzheimer’s is one of those diseases where everyone has either had a family member who has suffered from Alzheimer’s or knows somebody who has.”

How has “The Big Lebowski” gained such momentum in the 17 years since its original big screen release? Cousins said the quotable dialogue and vivid characters hook people, but attributed some of the cult success to “Dudism,” a lifestyle of rolling with the punches “the Dude” made popular.

“It’s a genuinely funny movie, because the characters are so unique,” he said. “You see little glimmers of folks you know in those characters.

“You look at ‘the Dude.’ He’s a guy who’s cobbled this life together and at the same time, he’s floating on top of the water,” Cousins continued. “He’s not swimming in it, he’s not fighting against it, he’s just letting it carry him along. He’s not the typical lead character. He lets everything come to him.”

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.