Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sex and the City

My review of Sex and the City, the movie, appears in this week's Fast Forward Weekly!

Grown-up Sex

Carrie and Company barely miss a beat

Take one last sip of your cosmos and shout it from the skyscrapers: Welcome back, ladies!

Was it the tough talk about sex, men and the business of love that helped build the Sex and the City empire? Fans of the show know it’s a truth far more profound — friendship. The beating heart of SATC has always been the relationship between soulmates Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. Well, that and shoes.

The film opens to reveal that the years since the TV series have been kinder to some than others: Charlotte is blissfully content with her family, Samantha has forsaken New York for L.A. (and possibly herself for her boyfriend, Smith), Miranda is more cynical than ever after hitting a hard patch with Steve, and Carrie’s fairytale ending is hanging by a silk thread.

The film clocks in at a little more than two hours, so some stories, unfortunately, get shortchanged. Miranda and Steve’s storyline, while offering Cynthia Nixon a chance to do some great acting, feels forced and maligns Steve’s character permanently. Kim Cattrall brings the sex to 50-year-old Samantha, who continues to grow as she makes a tough choice. Kristin Davis shines as Charlotte, who has become the girls’ spokesperson for happiness. But it’s Sarah Jessica Parker who brings a new and very welcome depth to our flawed heroine. Carrie demurs from sharing details of her sex life with Big, stays calm even when she sees the crisis coming and makes 40 look absolutely fabulous.

The men, save for Big (the reliably charming Chris Noth), struggle for face time, but lose out to the fashion. Scene upon scene is devoted to designers and stunningly chic clothes that insist on reminding viewers again and again that Sex and the City is a trendsetter. While the eye candy is pretty, it is also distracting and deprives the audience of more moments with characters like the gay boyfriends, Stanford and Anthony, who are under-utilized here.

Ultimately, this is a film for the fans. While the opening sequence gives a beautifully brief synopsis of the ladies’ lives — complete with some of their most memorable lines — it’s unlikely that the unfolding narrative will pack as much emotional punch for those viewers going in cold. It’s great to see Carrie so happily confident in hers and Big’s love (their playful banter hasn’t dulled), or to watch Miranda’s brittle breakdown. Still, Sex and the City has always been more about the journey than the destination. The film is a fitting tribute to the question the series posed all those years ago: single and fabulous? You bet.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jerusalem is Proud to Present

My interview with Jerusalem director, Nitzan Gilady, appears in the current issue of Xtra! West.

By Andrea Warner

When organizers announced the 2006 World Pride march would be held in Jerusalem, Nitzan Gilady intended to capture this historic first in gay culture. He quickly realized his documentary, Jerusalem is Proud to Present, was actually a witness to a fight for human rights as organizers came up against formidable opposition, all in the name of the Holy Land.

“At the beginning, I was one of those who questioned why we need to have a parade at all?” Gilady admits, but as he began shooting, he experienced the homophobia and hatred firsthand.

“At that time it was very scary. You would never know where it would come from—
someone would lose his mind and think he should react towards the community,” he says, reflecting on his own frightening encounter, depicted in the film as he and Jerusalem’s only out gay council member visit the Orthodox community.

Gilady, who lives in Tel Aviv and came out to his family in 2005, was unprepared for one strong alliance that arose from the World Pride March proposal. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders banded together against their common enemy: homosexuality.

“It was really weird to see that people really think like that. They said all these things, like ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,’ and ‘This is the Holy Land, not the Homo Land.’ I couldn’t actually hold the camera because I was laughing,” Gilady says. “But also for me it was standing almost in front of my father, because these are things my father still thinks.”

While 4000 people ended up attending the march, 7000 police officers were required to protect participants, a further testament to the courage of Jerusalem’s gay community. The film debuted on a major cable channel in Israel, and was broadcast throughout the country, making it difficult for religious leaders to keep the word “gay” under wraps. It has also made the festival rounds and picked up several awards so far.

Kris Anderson, the festival director of DOXA, Vancouver’s upcoming documentary film festival, saw Jerusalem at a festival in Amsterdam and felt it was an important message Canadians needed to hear.

“I think it’s a universal story, and probably a story that is getting more and more important. Fundamentalist religion is growing, and people who are oppressed are at risk, and these kind of battles—people need to know about them all over the world.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Presidents of the United States of America rock again!

Check out my story on Presidents of the United States of America in this week's Charleston City Paper.

VISITING ACT | Presidents of the United States of America

What a peach: the 'Lump' guys

By Andrea Warner

No one could escape the Presidents of the United States of America in 1995, as their self-titled debut quenched the thirsty ears of people desperate for dance-happy, silly joy-pop.

Fans of a certain age still know the words to PUSA's first smash, "Peaches," a deliciously offhand song that alternates between quiet declarations desiring a simple life, and pulsing anger, as lead singer and songwriter Chris Ballew squishes "nature's candy" in his fist.

"Lump" and "Kitty" followed, and pretty soon PUSA was ubiquitous. Their fame reached another level of notoriety when the God of Goof, "Weird Al" Yankovic, turned "Lump" into "Gump," a fitting parody for a band that insists on making music that disguises its genius under lyrics like, "Kitty on the floor and I wanna touch it."

Ballew's ability to churn out head-scratching hits is just part of PUSA's success. The rest of the band is equally game to play along. Jason Finn's drums pound and propel the catchy beats, and "guitbass" player Andrew McKeag (standing in for Dave Dederer), alternates bits of brilliance between raging riffs and melody. Ballew also plays the "bassitar," and other modified instruments, which helps PUSA craft their sound.

Surviving breakups and make-ups, PUSA is back together in support of their new album, These Are the Good Times People (Fugitive). The single "Mixed Up S.O.B." is more straightforward than "Lump," but equally catchy. The country-twinge of "Ladybug" would make for a great alt-rock hoe-down. The funny but rueful "Bad Times" boasts a chorus full of sweet lament.

PUSA's live shows haven't lost any of the energy over the last 12 years either. Recent footage reveal three guys full of frenetic energy, jumping like kids on pogo sticks, and an audience that can't stop screaming. With PUSA, the more things change, the more they stay the same. These really are good times, people.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


A quick preview I wrote about Ladyhawk, for the Charleston City Paper

The Melting Pot of Ladyhawk

By Andrea Warner

They look and sound like the love children of Neil Young and the Drive-By Truckers, but thrown from the back of a dirty Ford pick-up driven by the Killers. Famous for energetic sold-out shows in their native Canada, Vancouver's Ladyhawk has crossed the border, bringing with them their special brand of unrelenting guitar riffs, crashing cymbals, and a sound that refuses to be corralled into any one category. Southern rock? New classic rock? Indie alternative? It's a smorgasbord of sound, with songs that will keep the feet tapping from the bar to the dance floor and back to the bar again.

Ladyhawk pays proper tribute to some of their forefathers. "Night You're Beautiful" is all pounding drums, but offers a sly throwback to the Velvet Underground's "Walk on the Wild Side." The quieter parts of "Fear" are reminiscent of the Doors, as is the steady drum roll of "War." The sexy bass on "Long 'til the Morning" virtually guarantees vertical hip-to-hip action. And, while it's unlikely the crowd will need any motivation to put their dancing shoes on, the sing-song clap-along "My Old Jacknife" is maybe the happiest song to ever include the line "no one cares about me."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Dissemblers

My review of The Dissemblers appears in this week's Westender.

The Dissemblers
By Andrea Warner

Vancouver's well-documented obsession with façade and pretense is the perfect fodder for biting satire. Populated with vividly recognizable and not entirely likeable characters, playwright Jason Bryden's The Dissemblers is a snapshot of early-thirties disaffection and existential crisis, or the moments lived out between Starbucks and stoplights.

Dash (John Murphy), a self-involved artist with an unfortunate obsession with crows, juggles an uptight fiancée, Mi Mi (Medina Hahn), and a sexy flirtation with his tart-tongued gallery manager, Olivia (Sasa Brown). He's also trying to keep his friendship together with best friend Simon (Michael Rinaldi), who's in love with the weirdly spacy Jules (Jennifer Mawhinney). As the relationships unravel amidst a dinner party, bird genocide, and planning a gallery exhibit in China, each character is forced to examine how truth and happiness are interlinked.

Murphy is at his best opposite Brown and the dialogue between Dash and Olivia crackles with clever sexuality. Michael Rinaldi's Simon deservedly gets the majority of the play's laughs as an over-the-top realtor with a faux-hawk: "It's Coquitlam, it's the new inner-city," he says while trying to sell Olivia a condo. Unfortunately, Hahn and Mawhinney are hampered by roles that don't feel fully fleshed out, a crucial area where The Dissemblers doesn't come together. A startling left turn in the script's final 20 minutes feels too abrupt, as if it's part of an entirely different production, or worse, just there for shock value.

A thoroughly Vancouver-centric work (references to local haunts like Keno's, the crow migrations at dusk to Burnaby, the East Side Culture Crawl), The Dissemblers has captured the city's curious cultural tics with just the right amount of rueful affection. Bryden's debut falters at times, but ultimately heralds a welcome new voice in Canadian theatre.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Then She Found Me

My review of Then She Found Me appears in this week's Fast Forward Weekly

Then She Found Me? Kind of wish she hadn’t

Helen Hunt’s directorial debut enters movie-of-the-week territory

Then She Found Me
, Helen Hunt’s feature directorial debut, attempts to tackle such grandiose themes as love and loss, along with the three big Fs — fidelity, family and fertility. The result is something like an overgrown garden, with Hunt mistakenly planting the tangled roots in the estrogen-drenched movie-of-the-week genre.

Hunt stars as April, a kindergarten teacher in her late 30s. Within the first five minutes of the film, April’s entire world crumbles. In rapid-fire succession, her childish husband (Matthew Broderick) leaves her, her adoptive mother dies and her biological mother (Bette Midler) arrives on the scene. Twenty minutes later, she’s embarking on a meet-cute romance with the single father of one of her students (Colin Firth) and then finds out she’s pregnant with her ex-husband’s child. An entire year’s worth of soap opera-styled calamities and plot twists play out in the remaining 80 minutes.

There’s no lack of sincerity on the actors’ parts. Hunt’s April, at her lowest points, is realistically flawed and has the visage to complement her inner struggles — painfully thin, long frown lines, and not a trace of makeup. The actress’s choice to ditch vanity throughout most of the film is brave in today’s Hollywood. Midler is charmingly sweet and brash, and appears to relish the opportunity to dig into the emotional confrontations. She and Hunt have a nice chemistry and are believable as a reunited mother and daughter. Broderick fares less well in the thankless role of the man-child who doesn’t know how to grow up, particularly when compared to Firth’s romantic, sardonic and occasionally angry hero. Firth truly shines as a man trying his best to let his guard down and fall in love. He also lays claim to the best lines.

Still, even the stellar cast can’t get past the convoluted story. Based on a book by Elinor Lipman, the script apparently deviates heavily from the original text. This would be fine if a defter hand had cut the fat and made a leaner, more resonant film. While Hunt shows promise as a director, she seems unable to recognize her film’s flaws — it keeps insisting that it’s about real people and real situations, and yet it moves further into ridiculousness with each new revelation. April’s troubles and triumphs come fast and furious, but have no time to hit home.

Hunt spent 10 years getting Then She Found Me off the ground. Eleven might have been the magic number.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shared Vision feature

My feature story on Maureen Jack-LaCroix, co-written with Tamara Letkemen, appears in this month's Shared Vision.

The Goddess of Gumption

by Andrea Warner and Tamara Letkeman

From the raucous realm of rock ‘n’ roll to the daring and dangerous edges of skateboarding, Maureen Jack-LaCroix has emerged as Vancouver’s golden girl of promotion. Her entrepreneurial moxie has always embraced a bottom line emphasizing social change—and now, the ingenious impresario is summoning all her brilliance to take on her most daunting challenge yet.

Within minutes of meeting Maureen Jack-LaCroix, it becomes clear that she is as wild as the free-flowing mane of silver curls that frames her delicate facial features. Energy and enthusiasm seem to pulse off her as we settle into an interview that underscores her talent as one of Vancouver’s best “connectors”: a networker and a weaver of ideas and people. She’s a rare find—a hybrid who’s equally comfortable working with concepts (the world of ideas) and practicality (the world of action).

Early in her career, Maureen established herself as a producer and impresario who could engineer projects at the highest of levels. But she’s perhaps best known for taking a teenage sport thought to be populated by juvenile delinquents—skateboarding—and making it a respectable and even celebrated part of urban life. Maureen, whose son is a boarder, did it through the creation of Slam City Jam, a three-day festival of skate culture and music—and the longest-running event of its kind in North America.

It was a tough undertaking. Maureen recounts bumping up against City Council, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, and the Chief of Police, following a cover story in Thrasher magazine that featured one of the world’s top boarders bombing down a metal railing in Vancouver.

“The business association guy held it up and was like, ‘Look at this! Look at this!’,” she recalls. “And I laughed, and said, ‘Yeah, can you imagine doing that?’”

Before skateboarding, it was music. A classically trained pianist, Maureen stepped into the rock ’n’ roll scene after a college boyfriend enlisted her help in making a documentary about a band. She went on to become the band’s manager, and found herself thrust into a near-exclusive—and notoriously ruthless—boys’ club: the music industry.

The more intimate she became with the scene, the more appalled she was at the way musicians were being shafted, from contracts that resembled “master-slave” relationships to banks that rejected loan requests to replace broken instruments. Not content to merely play “backup,” Maureen founded a series of seminars on the music industry, which ultimately grew into New Music West, the biggest new music event in Western North America.

“It grew organically because it was of value, until we had 200 bands together showcasing in 20 venues, 150 talent scouts out from 75 labels internationally,” Maureen says. “It was a wonderful appreciation of our music and what was coming up from the grassroots of our creativity.”

And the hit parade doesn’t stop there. Maureen’s other credits include working closely with Bruce Allen, Bryan Adams, and David Foster to produce “Tears are Not Enough,” the song recorded in ’85 by a supergroup of Canadian artists to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.

It’s a star-studded resumé, to be sure, and it’s about to get fortified even more. Because now, Maureen’s entire career and set of producing experiences have aligned for her most important work yet. Get ready, Vancouver, for “Be the Change.”

A grassroots movement, Be the Change is bringing people together to combat global warming. Through a series of symposiums, it takes the huge and daunting concept of “saving the environment” and breaks it down into manageable chunks to show how our small, everyday contributions—like riding our bikes instead of driving, or composting our kitchen scraps—can result in permanent change. As the name suggests, “Be the Change” is about what you can do.
“This is no longer the time to marginalize our environmentalists,” Maureen stresses. “It’s not ‘They have to fix the problem and deal with it.’ What are our values? Who are we as a community?

“The best part of how big this global mind shift is,” she continues, “is that it’s truly ego-shattering—it’s so humbling to face the enormity of the task at hand, to fully recognize that I am not in control. ‘I’ cannot solve this problem. But ‘we’ can. It’s a profound shift in consciousness to truly value the ‘we’ over the ‘me.’”

The monthly, one-day symposiums are slated throughout Vancouver for the rest of this year. Participants are encouraged to bring the message back to their communities—but not to preach it. The philosophy is that as an individual changes, he or she will inevitably lead by example.

The ultimate goal? To get 1,000 Vancouverites to reduce their energy consumption by 20 per cent and, among other initiatives, increase their use of local organic produce by the same amount. In October, members and the public will gather for the first Be the Change Festival, featuring inspirational speakers, interactive workshops on climate change, plus music, film, dance, and poetry.

This is a project of—if you will—global proportions. But it’s also an idea that’s been germinating for 20-some-odd years. Shortly after Maureen finished working on “Tears are Not Enough,” she wrote her first proposal for an environmental event. Unfortunately, it didn’t take hold.

“At that time I thought we needed to have stars to endorse something for it to go,” she explains. “It needed to be powerful people that were behind it, and I was a young woman and I didn’t feel all that powerful. It never left me though.”

In fact, for the last several years, Maureen has had a quote from R. Buckminster Fuller, the American inventor, architect, author, mathematician, and futurist, affixed to her mirror: If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… how would I be? What would I do?

“I didn’t know,” she says, in answer to the first question. “But I knew I had to be different from the way I was.”

In response to question no. 2, Maureen’s taken a hiatus from her very successful company, Jack of Hearts Productions—and thus her income—to form the Be the Change Earth Alliance. It wasn’t an easy move.

“That entailed letting go of my attachment to the illusion of independence,” she says. “Of my self-worth being attached to how much money I made, and of my attachment to being in control. Not easy, letting go without knowing what will come in its place.”

With a string of such wildly successful events backing her up, it’s a leap of faith the premier producer and impresario can probably afford. After all, this is the same woman who championed skateboarding and took on the music industry—and the passage of time has done little to curb her defiant spirit.

“Ideally, I’ve become a wiser rebel,” she says. “But I think it’s really healthy for all of us to have a little rebel inside, because otherwise we just spend so much energy compromising to fit in that we don’t explore all of who we can be.”

Monday, May 5, 2008

Adaline interview

My interview with a new local musician, Adaline, appears in this month's Discorder!

Sweet Adaline
Sorry guys, but music is her boyfriend

By Andrea Warner

A few years ago, she was destitute and distraught, surviving on food from a church basement and suffering a severe case of post-break up and university-graduate blues. But, hitting bottom spurred Adaline into action, unleashing a torrent of creativity that portioned itself into 12 emotional and evocative songs for her debut album, Famous for Fire.

As she breezes into the coffee shop, apologizing for running three minutes behind schedule, Adaline radiates cheer, excitement, and graciousness. She warns that she’s a “chat-er” and that she’s working on showing a bit of decorum, not wanting to divulge anything that would “make her parents die.” But her natural friendliness and enthusiasm make withholding almost impossible, and frankly all the better.

Adaline in person is a stark contrast to the woman in her songs. Famous’s most haunting songs deal with betrayal, confusion, sadness, and heartbreak. And, while she’s pleased with the album and proud of the outcome, it’s still a tough place to journey back to every time she gets on stage.

“It was a really scary time. I am the most even-keeled, positive, outgoing person,” Adaline says. “And to know that I could go through a time that was that dark, makes you realize that everyone can.”

With nothing to lose, Adaline decided to hold a concert, a sort of “career launch” at a church to see if she had the chops to make it as a performer. She played for about 250 people that night, and hasn’t stopped yet.

Part of Adaline’s universal appeal might be the breadth of her influences. When she was younger, her father was a minister, and together with her mom and brother, the four would travel around and play music together, a Canadian twist on the Partridge family. Raised on a diet of church-based gospel and soul, the classically trained pianist ultimately discovered Pearl Jam’s Ten, a moment that shattered her preconceived notions of music and inspired a defiant streak as she bought and hid a new copy every time her parents found the CD and threw it out.

Her sheltered childhood couldn’t keep Adaline from indulging in her love affair with pop culture. She wasn’t allowed to take dance, but she made up her own routines to songs like “Baby Got Back”, that ode to junk-in-the-trunk glory off of secret tapes made from the radio.

“I was 17 or 18 when I heard Radiohead for the first time. And Tom Waits. People that everyone else knew of except for me,” Adaline says. “I was like, ‘this is so amazing.’ To hear people be creative and thoughtful about music in a way that I’d never heard before, it was absolutely mind-blowing.” And, while most people can’t recall hearing “Tiny Dancer” for the first time, it’s in part her perpetual wide-eyed awe that lends her darkest songs a lift up.

She admits her parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of her playing shows in dingy bars, but they have come around since her career launch concert, where her dad cried (and not out of joy) when he realized his daughter would make this her life.

Musically, her parents have a lot to be proud of with Adaline’s debut. Strongly influenced by women like Sarah Slean and Fiona Apple, the album’s haunting piano beautifully underscores her slightly smoky vocals. She’s already trying to mentally prepare for writing her second album, which will come from a vastly different place than Famous. But fans shouldn’t fear she’ll forgo her slightly sad songs entirely. Adaline’s more than a little cynical when the topic of love comes up, and she admits that all of her energy is intensely focused on her career.

“Honestly, I’m a bit of a geek right now. I’m really social, but I have found that lately the most exciting thing to do on a Friday night is how to plan my tour. Music is something that is so stable. It’s not like basing your happiness on a person or a situation. I often look at it as—and this is going to sound crazy—but as a romantic situation for me. Music is kinda my boyfriend. Which is a little weird,” she concedes with a laugh of embarrassment.

And this is part of the reason Adaline is poised to become a huge hit. Her sweetly self-deprecating candor is refreshing in a world of sound-bite ready bombshells. It’d be a shame for everyone if she gets the hang of that guarded thing.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Grand Canyon: River at Risk review

My review of Grand Canyon: River at Risk is in this week's Westender.

Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk
By Andrea Warner
Two stars

Part eco-conscious rallying cry and part paid advertising, the intentions behind Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk are as muddled as the water that flows through its majestic valleys.

The film follows Wade Davis, author/anthropologist/explorer, and his 17-year-old daughter Tara as they embark on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon to witness firsthand the environmental changes impacting the Columbia River. Davis is gathering material for a book on the very subject, and his pal Robert F. Kennedy Jr., river advocate among other things, is along for the bumpy ride.

Frustratingly, director/producer Greg MacGillivray (nominated twice for Academy Awards), periodically uses cheesy CGI wooden frames to contain his interviews in the centre of the screen, over top of any number of beautiful backdrops. There are also numerous distractions from the film's main message: Tara is heading off to college soon; Davis is making his book; and Shawna, the guide, has lived in the Canyon with her tribe her whole life. Oh, and Robert Redford narrates to little effect.

River at Risk offers some nuggets of information, and river conservation is a timely subject as the world looks to create greener living. Risk also offers some truly glorious images of first person point-of-view of the beautiful rapids batting the rowers about like small balls of yarn. But, its myriad conflicts of interest ultimately prove insulting, particularly at film's end when you're shown the benefits of switching to a Kohler energy efficient toilet moments before Kohler's credited as a major sponsor. A synergistic washout indeed.

Kenny review

My review of Kenny also appears in this week's Fast Forward Weekly.

By Andrea Warner

It’s a safe bet that there’s never been a film so heavily laden with poop jokes that also packs as much emotional heft as Kenny.

The titular working-class hero of this Australian comedy is a gentle giant in overall shorts, busting his butt to balance his personal life (demanding ex-wife, bitterly aging father, a good rapport with his young son) with his professional life (an all-consuming job as the veritable prince of porta-potties.)

Shot documentary-style, the camera throws Kenny into one potentially degrading situation after another — determining the variety-of-food-to-toilet ratio at festivals (more curry means more potties), fishing a woman’s lost wedding ring from a toilet and putting up with a fussy customer haranguing his parenting choices. Kenny handles each situation with grace and aplomb. He’s proud of what he does and genuinely doesn’t understand why society looks down on his career.

Kenny’s naive glee is contagious as he hops a plane to Nashville to take part in an international porta-potty convention. His fish-out-of-water enthusiasm endears him to a fetching stewardess and a karaoke-loving Japanese businessman. Watching Kenny unknowingly negotiate a huge contract for his company is as pleasurable as watching his sweetly clumsy and innocent flirtations blossom.

Shane Jacobson’s Kenny is so charmingly real that every hit and every hurdle feels personal. He’s absolutely brilliant as he delivers one off-the-cuff monologue after another regarding the ins and outs of digesting and egesting. Jacobson co-wrote the script with his brother, Clayton Jacobson, who also served as the film’s director. Originally released in their native Australia in 2006, Kenny has become a cult sensation and is about to launch a television series.

The Jacobson brothers have crafted a remarkable first movie that hits at the epicentre of our service culture society — there’s an unfair stigma attached to those who do the jobs no one wants, but Kenny forces the audience to reflect on why this is and grapple with their own judgments. As Kenny deftly handles one landmine after another, it’s impossible to remain unaffected by his dignity and humour.

Kenny himself isn’t a typical centrefold fantasy, but this makes the Jacobson brand of manliness all the more refreshing in its inspiration. In this day and age, when more and more people are dissatisfied with their jobs and yet define themselves by what they do, Kenny was a crapshoot, and is now poised to become a cultural phenomenon.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Shane Jacobson from Kenny

My interview with Shane Jacobson, star of the Australian hit comedy Kenny, appears in today's Fast Forward Weekly. If you're in Calgary, pick up a copy!

Good guys don’t always finish last
Shane Jacobson isn’t a celebrity, just a guy with a ‘recognizable fat head’
By Andrea Warner

Shane Jacobson is about to be a very famous man. Already a 2006 best actor-winner from the Film Critics Circle of Australia for his humble little plumber film, Kenny, Jacobson is just now touching down on North American soil. Move over, FUBAR — a new classic of the mockumentary genre has arrived.

Kenny tells the simple but profound story of a porta-potty worker struggling to keep people happy. The movie connected so deeply with Australian audiences that it quickly became a cult hit, and soon Kenny fever went airborne.

Jacobson’s shares his Kenny success with his director, co-writer and brother, Clayton. This is their first collaboration, and the resounding accolades are still rolling in. The pair have just completed work on a Kenny “World Toilet Tour,” which will air in eight half-hour instalments on Australian television, and finds Kenny in places as far-flung as Egypt, India, China and outer space.

This is a big leap forward for the actor and writer, who used to supplement his income by producing events. Without those event management connections, he likely would never have stumbled across the Splash Down worker (the real port-o-potty company where the fictional Kenny works) who inspired the film.

“I met the Splash Down worker [at] an event,” Jacobson recalls. “One of the ladies came out [of the toilet] and she was like ‘that hole in there, it stinks.’ He said, ‘Look lady, I don’t want to state the obvious here, but that’s a ladies’ toilet and you just came out of it, and you’re saying it stinks. I don’t manufacture the stink. If it stinks in there, it’s clearly got something to do with you or the lady who was in there before you. I only take the stuff away, I don’t manufacture it.’”

Therein lies the film’s simple premise — a man who refuses to be embarrassed about what he does, and is genuinely happy and content with his life. It’s a refreshing change from most cinematic heroes, who are either complex, conflicted or a curiously tedious combination of the two. Jacobson says that Kenny is actually a movie about decency more than anything else.

“We’re dealing with working-class stuff here,” he explains. “Working in a job the world frowns upon, there’s a lot of heart to be found.” He recounts his experiences in shopping malls where the cleaners keep their heads down and don’t make eye contact, trained to not expect respect. Jacobson and his brother make it a point to have the cleaners in the audience stand up after Kenny screenings and be applauded. That natural desire to champion the underdog is a huge part of what makes Kenny shine, and why Jacobson and his brother were so determined to create a character that was genuine and unselfconscious.

“We all hear the expression never judge a book by its cover, and I find that an interesting notion,” Jacobson says. “The difference with our film is that the message isn’t to the people who judge, but to the books who are being judged. To all those books who are being judged, it doesn’t change the content of your book. It just means they’ve chosen not to read the pages.”

This philosophy is keeping Jacobson focused on his career. He likens the last two years to being a “paper airplane in a hurricane,” but he’s grateful for the opportunities Kenny has afforded him. Now he and his brother get to wrestle with the notion of celebrity.

“My anonymity’s kind of disappeared in this country, but I hate the word ‘star’ or ‘celebrity,’” he says. “My brother and I have always said I just have a more recognizable head. I just have a recognizable fat head.”