For those of you who somehow missed hearing about this film, Kenny is an Australian mockumentary about a plumber who works for a toilet-hire company. Yes, every time you go to the Big Day Out, the Melbourne Cup, or what have you, and you have to use those horrendous public toilets, Kenny and friends are the people who set them up, keep them usable throughout the day, and then cart away truckloads of human waste at the end of the day.
Obviously, this has great comic potential to tap into comedy’s favourite topic: poo and wee. Yes, let’s admit it – there’s nothing the average comedy watcher loves more than hearing poo jokes. And this film has them by the bucketload. So, obviously, those of you who are in the slightest bit offended by this type of crude humour, you can take it from me, that you do not want to see this film, and it won’t be for everyone.
However, even despite the toilet jokes, why has this film with completely unknown actors become one of the biggest success stories in the Aussie film scene in recent years? Part of it is due to the untiring work of actor Shane Jacobson, who plays Kenny, who appeared in character at lots and lots of preview screenings of the film around Australia, which helped generate a lot of word-of-mouth publicity.
But I think beyond this, it’s because the filmmakers have a keen eye for social commentary. (By the way, I should just mention that this is an outstanding family job here, because as well as Shane, who plays Kenny, his brother directs the film and plays Kenny’s brother, it’s Shane’s dad playing his unbelievably crusty old dad in the film and it’s Shane’s real-life son playing his son. So hats off to all of them.)
What the film targets is the way that, in Australia, we really do tend to categorise somebody (especially men) by their work. While not necessarily stated explicity, those people who haven’t gone to university, don’t have a white-collar job, and work in more menial areas are often looked down on, and this film exposes it. Actually, to be honest, all the jokes at the beginning lull you into a false sense of security, so when we start to see the way Kenny is treated by his family and other people, it becomes quite painful to watch the amount of ostracism that he suffers. In fact, the comedy levels drop so much towards the middle and end of the film that you start to feel like you’re watching a regular documentary.
Of course, this is a comedy, so things eventually (and perhaps a little implausibly) turn the corner for him, so it all works out quite neatly. But one of the charms of this film is the dignity that Shane brings to the role.
I think it’s worth a look by Christians (though, again, with the warning that I gave earlier about the crudeness of the language and subject matter) because I think (especially in middle and upper class areas) that we can often share the same preconceptions about the type of people doing jobs like Kenny’s. And part of that is because we’ve lost the idea of work as a God-ordained service to mankind.
So, for me, one of the interesting moments is a little throwaway moment when Kenny ends up in Nashville, Tennessee at a big convention devoted completely (believe it or not) to portable toilets and cleaning. In this one scene, he walks past a cardboard stand with life-size figure of a man wearing overalls and gloves (another toilet worker) but the caption on this poster says, “I am a healthcare professional.” Kenny pauses for a bit and says nothing. As I said, it’s a throwaway moment, but I believe it sums up for Kenny (and us) that there is a dignity in serving others (even in this particular field of endeavour).
4 out of 5