Culture | Who is KK Downey?: hipster comedy hits home

We are the voiceless generation that has yet to do something genuinely new to define itself – so the argument goes.

Enter Terrence, a man-child pushing 30, the protagonist of Who is KK Downey?, the first full-length feature production from Montreal-based Kidnapper Films. His ex-girlfriend won’t return his calls, his band plays to an empty room, and he walks around his house half-dressed, asking: “Does this underwear make my dick look fat?”

He’s an upper-middle-class hipster at rock bottom, until he and his best friend Theo invent KK Downey – a legend in a wig and a fedora whose tragic story finally gives all the scenesters “something to give a shit about.”

KK is the main character of Truck Stop Hustler, a novel Theo has spent three years writing, only to be told that it’s unpublishable. Apparently, no one wants to read wild stories of child prostitution and drug abuse from a suburban white kid; as his publisher points out, “just about everyone has one of those at home these days.”

Adapting to times where authenticity has become a commodity of its own, Terrence and Theo switch tactics and market Truck Stop as an autobiography. When it becomes a hit and people start calling for KK, Terrence dons a blond wig and a limp southern accent, and voilà – a star is born. Based loosely on the stories of literary hoaxes like JT LeRoy and James Frey, the film plays with the absurdity of a culture so starved for authenticity that selling it can become quite a racket.

The only one who’s not buying the KK hype is Conner, the painfully pompous music critic who’s also dating Terrence’s ex-girlfriend, Sue. With his over-enunciated pronouncements (“this song is quite contrived”), horrendous haircut, and mile-wide ego, Conner’s a caricature of the worst kind of hipster snob. The plot thickens when Conner sets out to bust the KK hoax and finds more than he may have expected.

Unlike their protagonists, the filmmakers are writing what they know. The directors, Darren Curtis and Pat Kiely, are Montreal natives who have known each other since grade one, and have a close relationship with the object of their satire. “Maybe I like to think of myself as on the periphery, but I’m probably a full-blown hipster,” admitted Kiely, who also plays Conner in the film.

It’s a funny accident of timing that the release of this “hipster comedy” coincides with the recent publication of an Adbusters article citing the subculture as a symptom of the end of Western Civilization. Even more ironic, considering that KK is positioned as the voice of a generation. Conner himself gives the set-up for KK’s introduction, holding court in front of a crowd of awed admirers in a local cafe: “Name one artist who’s had as much influence on our generation as Dylan had on his!”

The characters in this film want to be all kinds of things that they’re not. Terrence and Theo want to be everything but boring kids from the suburbs. In high school, they dreamt of being rappers; as twentysomethings, they’re romanticizing a hard life on the streets. In both cases, they’re longing for the “underdog cred” that they hope will make them edgy and interesting. Truck Stop Hustler is such a hit because all the readers have similar insecurities – and, ironically enough, because the work of fiction is, as Sue puts it, “so honest.”

Are we living in a cultural void? Is our generation so preoccupied with looking cool that we’re missing something of substance? Kiely remained skeptical that youth culture today is much worse than past generations.

“I think hipsters do have big ambitions,” Kiely said. “Maybe they just don’t know how to get there.”

It looks like the members of Kidnapper Films are making good on some of their ambitions, pulling off Who is KK Downey? on next to no budget, thanks to the help and support of the Montreal arts community.

Maybe we don’t have a common cause to fight for, but some of us have got spunk.

Who Is KK Downey? comes out Friday at the AMC Forum theatre.