Capturing the wonderment of childhood without slipping into sentimentality is tricky, and that’s just what producer/writer/director Don Coscarelli achieves with Kenny & Company, the first movie that he directed alone. Depicting the adventures of an average 12-year-old kid living in the suburbs of southern California, the movie takes a warm look at everything from bullies to first love to Halloween to mortality. In many ways, it’s a typical coming-of-age comedy, and yet there’s something endearingly authentic about the picture’s specifics. Featuring kids’-eye-view narration, the scrappy little movie emphasizes the people, places, and things that affect the worldview of film’s young protagonist. For viewers who were kids in the ’70s, Kenny & Company offers a blast of pure nostalgia to the fleeting period in life when days seemed to stretch out forever.
The episodic storyline takes place in the fall, when Kenny (Dan McCann) and his misfit buddies anxiously await Halloween. Most of the time, Kenny explores the world alongside his best friend, Doug (A. Michael Baldwin), though the duo somehow inherited a clumsy nerd named Sherman (Jeff Roth) as a perpetual tag-along. The boys do foolish things like planting cherry bombs under trashcans and sitting atop the trashcans so the resulting explosions will launch them into the air. They also endure the practical jokes of Doug’s father (Ralph Richmond), a Secret Service agent who finds it hilarious to lock up kids with his handcuffs and then pretend he’s lost the keys. Kenny tries to work up the nerve to ask out his pretty classmate, even as he clashes with a bully who demands protection money. The real world isn’t kept totally at bay; hearing that an aging neighbor is approaching death and then learning that his beloved dog is terminally ill forces Kenny to wrestle with existential questions.
Although Kenny & Company is not the slickest of movies, the piece works overall. Coscarelli keeps his kid actors from playing cute, and he kicks the movie into overdrive during the climactic Halloween sequence, which unfolds like a surreal horror movie. (Not coincidentally, Coscarelli has spent most of his subsequent career making surreal horror movies, including the Phantasm series.) Best of all, Coscarelli gets Kenny’s attitude just right, encapsulating the hopefulness of youth and shooting it through the prism of the southern California sunshine. As Kenny says in a typical line of voiceover, “What if she likes me? Boy, that’d be bitchin’. Goin’ steady with Marcy would be great!” Seeing as how Kenny & Company features of a scene of Doug’s father unloading his .45 and handing the gun to a group of kids as a plaything, this movie’s all about reveling in a time that was bereft of the everyday anxieties we take for granted today.
Kenny & Company: GROOVY