I decided that, if I was going to see something that wasn’t going to be very good, I should balance it out by seeing something that would probably turn out okay. Kenny, a new Australian mockumentary by the Jacobson brothers, was just the movie to fill the gap.
Kenny (Shane Jacobson) works as a field manager for the corporate washroom hire service known as Splash Down. This film documents his life as he goes about day to day work, faces the stigma of society, deals with his family and eventually makes his way to Nashville for a Pumpers and Scoopers Convention.
Kenny is a film with a lot of scatological humour that is surprising in its lack of crudity. The man himself is kind, devoted to his son and dedicated to his work. He spends a lot of time explaining the necessity of his work and the amount of enthusiasm that he has for it. The level of attention that he pays to the documentary makers varies throughout the film, with a necessary heaviness at the start and a surprising paucity towards the end. Sometimes he speaks to the camera as he goes about his work; at others he speaks over the footage to give his impression of what was going on. After a while it stops being about the excrement and starts being about the man. Kenny doesn’t exactly have “adventures”, but his life becomes active enough that the cameras can simply follow it without seeking comment.
Kenny manages to tell a story just by following a man around and, even if some parts of said story may seem contrived, they do not resolve themselves in a contrived fashion. At one point the film has the potential to lurch into tragedy but it is tasteful enough to realise that this is not the tone that it should seek.
It is strange that Kenny is the only character who acknowledges the existence of the camera; the rest of the characters on hand are either oblivious to the camera or simply don’t care. Sometimes the camera technique indicates that the crew are observing from a discreet distance, but one would expect that the people in Nashville would have been more circumspect than they turned out to be. Certainly, the film is fictitious, but the level of its documentary nature is sometimes not quite clear.
Despite the fact that the film was made across two continents, it did not have a high budget; it is an Australian film after all. The documentary look is assisted by the use of low quality digital cameras and an at times cavalier approach to audible dialogue. While this certainly assists the documentary aesthetic, it undoubtedly gets in the way of the film as a film. At several points you may well look at it and think “I wish that this looked better”, as I did. Authenticity is not worth much if it obscures your message.
Yet Kenny is a most pleasant film, despite its flaws. Yes, maintaining and plumbing portable toilet blocks is not a glamorous job, but the people who do it are certainly capable of living fulfilling lives. Everything is not quite as Kenny might have wanted it but, for the most part, he’s living as he sees fit. This may be a place to insert patriotic claptrap about giving it a go, and being a battler, but Kenny is not about that; It’s about being true to yourself, and to your love, and to taking apart airplane toilets to see how they work.