“Yeah, well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.” – The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in “The Big Lebowski”
In writer/director Eddie Chung’s amusing and eventually engrossing documentary “The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans,” there’s the Dudes, the Walters, the Maudes, the Donnies, the Jesuses, and even toes (with nail polish), all together for various Lebowski Fests, from its inaugural turn in Louisville, Kentucky in 2004, to bigger subsequent events that also attract actors from the classic, beloved cult film. At first, it’s enough for Chung’s camera to just follow them around and see the camaraderie, the contests, the bowling, and hear various thoughts on the event in a wandering, Dude-like manner. That’s done for the first 10+ minutes, but interestingly, in a way that mirrors how “The Big Lebowski” works, though Chung is not as fortunate with his gathered material at that point.
“The Big Lebowski” slinked about leisurely at the start, as we learned of The Dude, Walter, the “carpet pissers” who mistake The Dude for the richer, disabled Jeffrey Lebowski, and gradually, as if we weren’t already entertained enough, it shifted into a clever, very offbeat detective story, with the most unlikely investigators in movie history.
“The Achievers” begins in much the same way, with various attendees praising the consistent value of Lebowski Fest, focusing especially on Stormy, from Chicago, who’s not yet grabbed the top prize in the trivia contest. Always second place, which makes her more and more desperate for that bigger trophy. She knows she can do it, and we can see the drive in her to make it happen. The attention’s scattered here, but no matter, since many of these people in addition to Stormy are quite interesting, except for an obsessive collector/Lebowski fan, who has an impressive room in his house devoted to “The Simpsons” (he even shows off a Simpsons pinball machine that he bought after selling his car), and a wife who hates “The Big Lebowski,” but looks stoically tolerant. Beyond those two details, there’s nothing else he offers which can keep one interested, not even a gathering of Lebowski Fest online forum members at his place for a “forum cookout,” though they look like good company.
By then, worry sets in because one wonders if that’s all Chung intends to feature for the remaining minutes. How many more happy thoughts about the festival can be endured? We know how great this seemingly endless Lebowski party is and for us fans who can’t make it as easily as some of these people, we wish we could.
Fortunately, just like the shift in “The Big Lebowski,” from The Dude being involved in nothing, to him being involved with something, Chung puts “The Achievers” on two courses: One with the creative-minded, passionate fans dressed up as various characters and lines of dialogue from the film (there’s one man who remembered The Dude saying, in response to Jackie Treehorn about sex being performed electronically in the future, “Yeah, well I still jerk off manually,” and made up a yellow book costume called “The Jerkoff Manual”) and Stormy’s quest to capture that sweet, sweet trophy. These moments are where the energy lies in “The Achievers,” including appearances by James Hoosier, who played Jesus’ bowling partner Liam, and Jerry Haleva, who was Saddam Hussein in the surreal, choreographed dream sequence. What seem like small, but undoubtedly appreciated roles to us are major to those Lebowski fans, and Robin Jones, who played the Ralph’s checkout girl who looks at The Dude as he writes that $0.69-cent check, is interviewed as well with her twin sister.
You can see excerpts of “The Achievers” on the 10th anniversary 2-disc DVD set of “The Big Lebowski,” but in its full form, it’s worthwhile not only for sheer entertainment, but to test how big a fan you actually are. I got chills while watching “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan (which was heard during the opening credits while bowlers scored strikes) being sung by a clearly devoted fan. And those trivia questions that Stormy tries to answer, such as where Sobchak Security is located (it’s mentioned in the film… somewhere), will either make you smirk with familiarity or turn white with panic. You may wonder how you could be such a dedicated Lebowski fanatic without knowing such facts, but that’s why Stormy’s there, doing her damnedest to answer those questions, and also why this documentary exists, to remind us of the connections that can be made by a single movie. I think The Dude would appreciate that*, people from all over the U.S. and around the world coming together to celebrate his greatness. He would definitely abide.
*Jeff Dowd, the good-natured, real-life inspiration for His Dudeness, who makes ‘The Dude’ his preferred nomenclature, really loves it, appearing in footage of the gatherings and in interviews. Jeff Bridges also makes a most welcome, riotously-received appearance.