Kenny & Company

Director: Don Coscarelli                
Dan McCann, Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister

In Kenny's class, there is a classmate named Pudwell. He's a really weird kid, a terminal giggler who likes to throw cake, clay, and anything else that seems to be moist at Kenny and the other kids at school. He doesn't seem to throw this stuff out of any special malice, but more for the fact that he likes to throw stuff. I could believe this character. When I was in fifth grade, there was a weird kid in my classroom - Donald, Ronald, some name with two The best part of the game is seeing the moaning bodies you went through seconds ago! syllables with a hard sound to it. (Bullies and weird kids in your class always seem to have two syllable names with a hard sound to it.) Anyway, this kid liked to do stuff when my teacher was talking, like play with toy cars or completely plaster his nose with those large stickers that parodied commercial products. I've forgotten the name of those stickers, but I won't ever forget the time when the teacher got so fed up with the kid, he smashed off the toy cars on the kid's desk with one awesome swoop of his arm. One of the flying cars left a big dent on the door of the classroom's closet. I used to check out that dent every few days to remind myself of what I'd seen.

There are experiences you have while growing up that you never forget, and Kenny & Company is a wonderful reminder of them, reminding us of all the experiences we had while growing up. Remember the weird little kid that lived in your neighborhood? How about sneaking a look at a girlie magazine from your friend's collection? And when a law officer visited your class or youth group, what was the first question that was always asked by one of your peers? That's right, it was, "Can we see your gun?" I think pretty much all of us went through those experiences. Even if some of these experiences aren't exactly what Kenny goes through, there is always something about them that reminds us of going through something similar. I never encountered a freshly-painted bench on school property, but I do remember being very curious about freshly painted walls and other objects elsewhere, like Kenny is with that bench. I never saw a car accident whose site freaked me out, but I do remember the shock of encountering a dog that was run over by a train.

Kenny & Company really captures what life is like while growing up. Writer/director Don Coscarelli remembers it correctly as a series of vignettes; some incidents in your life just last briefly, while others are brought back up several times over a longer period of time. Though released by a major studio, this is a remarkably "Who said these were the best years of your life? Your MAMA?" un-Hollywood movie. It's a wonder that it got made and released back then, and it would be an utter miracle if something like it got made today. Imagine pitching it to the major studios: a glimpse at several days of the typical life of a boy caught between being a child and a teenager, with there being no major plot, no action sequences, no neat and tidy ending, and no viewing of children as small adults but as how they really are. And it is smart and full of heart, instead of having a goofy attitude that panders to the lowest common denominator. Like The Rivals, they not only never make movies like this nowadays, they couldn't. A real shame.

I can't really give a plot description of this movie, because as I said before, there is no real plot. Though we do regularly cut to some evolving stories (Kenny's encounters with the neighborhood bully, Kenny and his best friend preparing for Halloween, Kenny's crush on a girl in his class, etc.) none of them are close enough to resembling a central plot. It's like we're getting a candid view of several days of your typical near-adolescent boy. Some who are cynical may think from that description that, since what we see are activities of a more or less ordinary boy, what we see must be boring. It is not. Remember the hilarity and fun you had making a prank phone call? Though Kenny, we relive that wonderful feeling of doing something a little naughty. We share his pain when he is too shy to talk to the girl in class he really likes. And when we hear his thoughts, like when he thinks, "Sometimes I really do dumb things - like riding down Johnny Hoffman's street" just before said bully pounces on him and demands money, we understand. We all did things we knew were dumb, and we didn't know why we did them. You can relate to Kenny, because he is doing so many things that you did when you were younger. You relive your childhood. Boring? Not for a minute. In fact, if this movie had been twice as long, it still wouldn't be boring.

Kenny might not be your typically smart-ass Hollywood youth, but I liked him because he was more ordinary than the typical child we see in a movie. This movie has a lot of sympathy for him, and never once lets us see him in a negative light. (Even the pranks he plays are seen in a lovable and understanding light.) He and the other kids in the movie are Try as he might, his untrustworthy fingers can't tell him what in the bag his friends plan to light outside someone's door some of the more realistic child characters I've ever seen in any movie, right down to the casting - these kids look like kids, not like teenagers pretending to be a few years younger. But its the things, big and little, that the kids do that really makes them bona fide real children. Sure, the vignette of buying a present for a friend might be too goofy to be convincing, and the big plan to get back at the neighborhood bully may be too elaborate to believe that a kid could do, but there is so much more that comes off realistically. Take the strategy that Kenny acts out in the opening football sequence in order to make a successful touchdown. Only a kid would think of that strategy, only a kid would do it.

Even the adults are seen in a positive light. Kenny's parent's don't belong with the usual nerdy and ignorant mothers and fathers usually seen in Hollywood movies. They are ordinary people, like Kenny is, and they have big hearts. Remember when your mother would give you a hug for no reason at all? Kenny's mother is like that. Kenny's father isn't always right - he tells Kenny he has to take on the bully, though Kenny can in no way measure up to the bully's height and strength. On the other hand, he is right when he tells Kenny that there will always be bullies like Johnny Hoffman around, and you might as well start standing up to them now.

Kenny & Company is one of the best looks at childhood that I've ever seen. It has aged fairly well, since it seems to have beenSad, but true - the only guns kids had in those days were BB guns carefully constructed (no pop culture references, clothing and hair styles more neutral, etc.) so that everyone watching it, no matter when they grew up, can relate to it. Aside from those two previously mentioned scenes that are a bit hard to believe, there is one other flaw, though fortunately it's not with the screenplay. The problem is that the movie has even more soft-focus photography than Lucille Ball had in Mame. Maybe Coscarelli photographed the movie this way in order to give the movie a nostalgic look to it, but that was not necessary; the screenplay and the actors manage to do that on their own. They are both good enough to make you forgive the photography and enjoy the rest of the movie. Don't miss this sweet little sleeper.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Jimmy The Boy Wonder, The Rivals, Secret Agent Club