Film: Kenny

It’s very rare that you see a film that you know absolutely nothing about beforehand, and from which you subsequently walk away thankful that you nonetheless made your way to it. Kenny is one such film.

A “mockumentary” in the tradition of Spinal Tap and Best In Show (and with more than a nod toward The Office), Kenny tells the story of, well, Kenny. He’s a Melbourne man of very humble station. Kenny’s into waste management; human waste management. It’s his job to supply, maintain, and retrieve porta-loos for events as diverse as private functions right through to major sporting and community occassions. But Kenny’s not just a delivery man; he’s a plumber. Which means that he’s more often than not (literally) up to his elbows in it – human it.

We follow Kenny from his pre-dawn starts to his late at night “delivery” to the Werribee sewerage farm. In between, he has to cope with snobbish, ungrateful members of the public; his harridan of an ex-wife; his fractious co-workers; and his impossibly irascible father. Kenny deals with the lot with a blend of unselfconscious humility, quiet dignity, and an idiosyncratic, self-effacing sense of humour characterised by a vocabulary of “kennyisms” that will have you clutching your sides with laughter. Throughout, we are outraged on Kenny’s behalf by the attitude of others (which, of course, reflects our own attitude toward the cleaners, janitors, waste disposal, and maintenance people of the real world); we wonder at his patience; we relate to his frustrations; and we share his desperate anxiety when his son goes missing at the Melbourne Cup.

But we also sense Kenny’s life is a sad existence, marked by an inner loneliness despite his cheerful exterior. And thus we are overjoyed when, on a company-sponsored trip to the US for a “crap convention”, Kenny meets a Qantas air-hostess and they get on like a house on fire. Yet we also cringe at his apparent naivety and total ignorance of the protocols of dating; he seems completely unaware of the fact that the lady likes him – a lot. Will this encounter represent a new chance at happiness for Kenny? Will his hopeless inability to “read” social situations get in the way? Or is Kenny cleverer and more attuned to the subtleties of human relationships than we at first suspect?

The best thing about Kenny is that, unlike The Castle, this film doesn’t patronise or make fun of its subject. The humour is always affectionate, never mocking or superior or condescending. Kenny is a “rough diamond” in the beloved archetype of Australian folklore; but he is a three-dimensional being, not a cardboard cut-out, or some middle class supposition of what working class life involves. We’re on Kenny’s side not because he’s a hero or an anti-hero, but because he’s human. There’s a glory and dignity of the everyday in Kenny that powerfully and insightfully challenges the achievement-and-fame orientation of our celebrity-obsessed society.

Kenny is by far and away one of the best films of its type – a real diamond in the mountain of Hollywood blockbuster dross. It’s hilarious, sad, moving, poignant, uplifting, and revealing – a “feel good” movie in the truest, deepest sense of the word. Shane Jacobson is perfect as Kenny, and the supporting cast are spot-on. True folklore story-telling at its best.

(c) Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2018. All rights reserved.