Warning: this film will have your mind in the toilet for days. The titular character of this Aussie faux documentary delivers, sets up, and “manages” port-a-potties, and he never lets us forget it. The dirtiest side of the job allows him to describe himself as a “plumber.” Yes, the film’s ready-made for potty humor galore, and we get some. After the opening minutes at the Philadelphia Film Festival screening, a woman behind me turned to her husband. “Is this all about s**t?” His reply: “I think it’s about Kenny.” He was onto something, we’ll see.
Kenny Smyth (Shane Jacobson) shares his expertise and experiences in a folksy Aussie accent via voiceover or by addressing the camera. Unaffected by the stigma of his profession, this stocky teddy bear is just a guy committed to one of the “most important jobs there is.” We all need the services, so he can’t understand why everyone’s always dumping on him. (Sorry: I think the non-chagrined Kenny has rubbed off on me.) But it’s all waste down the drain to Kenny, who draws his audience close to something about which we have more curiosity than we’d admit. Kenny’s the perfect guide, with plenty of wit and an openness that would make anything he talked about seem likable.
“Kenny,” co-written by Jacobson with his brother, Clayton (who also directed), is shitty in theme but not in quality. The Jacobson brothers fashion their simple tale into a character study by revealing more and more about the man while never skipping on the humor. The first part of the film tours Kenny’s professional world, consisting mostly of large outdoor events with food and beer a-plenty, and where Kenny must note if there will be any curries served. (It will mean he has to up the “person-to-loo” ratio.) Here he’s an everyman committed to a trade that, much like that of an undertaker, requires humor to keep on.
But the more we hang with Kenny, we realize his real burdens, including an ex-wife who barely cooperates with him to see his son, and Kenny’s father, who can’t stand the thought of his son’s job for a second. Even when obviously clean from head-to-toe, Kenny has to change before entering his pa’s house. The judgmental people in his life have kicked him to the ground; the job itself is not to blame.
But not until Kenny gets something of a break do we realize he’s more than an average Joe, but something of an innocent. After his boss has to back out, Kenny gets to fly to the U.S. to attend a “loo” convention; while we’re sniffing out more comic setups (which never come), it’s touching to see Kenny marvel at his first plane ride. When about to take off, he looks around with a sense of wonder that many of us could experience as kids. When he arrives to Nashville, his eyes grow wide at a new world. “Look at that city,” he says while approaching in a car, and Shane Jacobson pulls the line right from the heart. We don’t really know Kenny until he’s removed from his everyday, and then we realize that the world relies on people like him to manage the mucky parts. Opportunity knocks on this trip, professionally and – in a surprising, endearing turn – romantically. And you’ll be rooting for this pure spirit, as by now he’s more than won us over.
I sense that the Jacobson brothers set out to make a simple little comedy. But how grand it must be for them to see the humanity of their fresh, inventive film rising to the level of its humor.