This review contains a good number of plot spoilers, although because Kenny is not primarily a plot-driven film, it shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the film.
Kenny is a charming Australian mockumentary that follows the titular character (Shane Jacobson), who is a plumber working for a company that provides portaloos. He is a thirty-something divorcee, with whom he has a son that he worships. He possesses a poetic turn of phrase that only Australians seem to be blessed with, depositing such gems as “Here’s a classic example of someone having a two-inch arsehole and us having only installed one-inch piping!” He is a simple man, preferring, as he says, to work outdoors, who enjoys simple pleasures, such as a cold beer with some friends.
We see Kenny work his way through a number of the bigger summer festivals in Melbourne – St Kilda Festival, Melbourne Cup and the Australian International Airshow – and experience the stress, unpleasantness and thanklessness that Kenny experiences at these festivals. In one instance, he retrieves a woman’s engagement ring from a portaloo, and when he returns it to her (washed, naturally), she barely lifts her head to acknowledge him, let alone show him some gratitude.
He also experiences a lack of respect from his wife, who constantly rings him to criticise him or to blame any misbehaviour by their son on him, and from his father, who refers to him as a “glorified turd-burglar”.
Then, Kenny is taken squarely out of his comfort zone, and sent to Nashville, Tennessee to a huge trade expo. Kenny is clearly uncomfortable in this environment, and reveals that it is his first time on a plane and that he is the first member of his family to leave Australia. However, Kenny’s natural character shines through, and by fixing a toilet on the airplane (which he later reveals that he accidentally broke) he strikes up a relationship with airhostess Jackie, who we see is very plainly drawn to him for the same reasons we are. And once more, using nothing other than his penchant for being nice to people and putting others before himself, he unwittingly talks himself into a staggeringly large order for his company from an Asian executive Kenny dubs the “Sushi Cowboy”.
When Kenny’s father is taken ill, he drops everything (including a final drink with Jackie) to return home. His father is clearly worried about being in hospital, and takes it out on those around him, but Kenny is there to comfort him when he needs him (despite that it is quite clearly a thankless job – in Kenny’s words, his father’s “emotional bank account had all of two cents in it”). His father requires a potentially dangerous operation, so he organises a camping trip to reconnect with both of his sons for what could be the last time. Kenny’s brother is quite clearly ashamed to be seen with either of them, and in the middle of the night, calls a taxi to come and pick him up from the middle of the bush. This prompts Kenny’s father to reveal to Kenny that he doesn’t think much of his other son, and in what was for me, one of the most touching moments of the film, tells Kenny that he’s become “so used to walking in your brother’s shadow that you doesn’t realise that if you just take a step to the side, you’d cast one of your own.”
What makes Kenny really work as a film is the fact that Kenny is an overwhelming likable character. We feel sorry for him when his ex-wife, father, brother and members of the public that he meets on the job (no pun intended) berate him for merely being himself. We delight in the early sparks of romance he enjoys with Jackie, and marvel in the way he puts others before himself, turning down an offer to Jackie’s room because he feels obliged to see the Sushi Cowboy home safely, and how he drops everything to return home when he hears his father has been taken to hospital.
One of the most enjoyable films I’ve watched in years, this one is a real heartwarmer and does wonders to restore your faith in humanity – as long as there are people like Kenny in the world, we’ll be alright. A+, because I can’t give it any more than that. An absolute gem.