At Film Threat, we’re really not supposed to talk about film festival experiences in our reviews. Just write a straight review for god sake. My basic approach to attending film festivals is to simply show up, see what’s available, and watch it. The randomness of selecting a movie makes it possible to find that little gem of a film, that no one will ever see and not judge it based on a weak program synopsis.
Today, that little gem is writer/director Zachary Ray Sherman’s Barbie’s Kenny. Kenny (Shawn Hawkins) is a struggling actor in L.A. He works at a restaurant, freelances creating artwork on Photoshop, and of course, goes to his regular acting class. Here Kenny meets fellow thespian and amateur photographer Emily (Bianca Lemaire). The two hit it off…quite slowly.
“Kenny wants nothing to do with her. He has no time, money, nor the energy to deal with a woman he hardly knows…”
Out of nowhere, Kenny starts receiving annoying phone calls from his mother Barb (Tara Bast)…his birth mother. Fourteen years ago, Kenny was abandoned by Barb, and he was adopted into another family. Kenny still stays in touch with his adoptive brother Andy (Andrew Dubitsky) in L.A. Mother Barb needs help, but Kenny wants nothing to do with her. He has no time, money, nor the energy to deal with a woman he hardly knows. That is until a desperate Barb shows up at his apartment door.
Fourteen years ago, Barb was not ready to be a parent. It’s clear today, she still isn’t, but she has nowhere to go and has an advanced form of COPD that’s slowly killing her if she doesn’t change her lifestyle (i.e., quit smoking).
Barbie’s Kenny is essentially a story of an adult child, who is forced to be a parent to his parent-child. First Kenny has to be the adult in the relationship and quickly becomes intolerant of her behavior. While coming home from acting class, Kenny discovers Barb passed out by the Christmas tree, but it was only a joke, because Kenny liked that when he was a kid. He is also forced to manage Barb’s treatments and health. And on top of it all, Kenny has no time or emotional strength to do any of this for her. Barb, on the other hand, has nothing to offer, but make promises about finding a hidden stash of gold somewhere underneath the streets of Los Angeles, left by the old Gold Rush miners.
“…makes no speeches or says something profound about his situation. Instead, it’s all said in his performance.”
There’s a simple beauty to Barbie’s Kenny. Director Sherman embraces the adage, “less is more.” First, Shawn Hawkins gives an excellent, yet subtle lead performance. We follow him from moment to moment and watch just how every event from his tense interactions with his mother and his budding romance with Emily builds and shapes his character over time. Kenny makes no speeches or says something profound about his situation. Instead, it’s all said in his performance.
In contrast, Tara Bast as Barb comes off as really annoying…but I’m pretty sure that was the point. She’s natural as the mother who wants the best for her son, but her best is just words. Where the two wind up at the end is subtle and sweet, while quietly sneaking up on you in a profound way. It’s a beautiful example of how awesome independent filmmaking can be and chances are you’ll never see it.
Barbie’s Kenny (2019) Written and directed by Zachary Ray Sherman. Starring Shawn Hawkins, Tara Bast, Bianca Lemaire, Andrew Dubitsky, Edward Hendershott. Barbie’s Kenny screened at the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars