What’s in a name? Is a good movie with a bad name still a good movie? It is, and while I Like Killing Flies has about the worst name since The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Crazy Mixed Up Zombies, it’s still a very good, very funny and gloriously New York movie. In fact it’s almost too much fun to be a documentary.
Kenny Shopsin is one of those New York City fixtures; his Greenwich Village diner is one of those places that you have to go to at least once – well maybe twice, since it’s quite possible you’ll get kicked out the first time you go. Shopsins has a very specific code of conduct, including no cell phones and no groups bigger than four. But it’s worth the humiliation of being booted by Kenny; the place makes some of the best food you’ll ever eat.
While the food’s damn good, what makes Shopsins so special is that there are over 900 items on the menu and they’re all made from scratch when you order. The pancake selection alone is mind-blowing, including “Post-modern pancakes,” where you make pancakes, chop them up, put them in pancake batter and make new pancakes.
Filmmaker Matt Mahurin understood that a guy like Kenny Shopsin is the sort of personality that anchors a great documentary, and he really lucked out by making his film when Shopsin was about to move two blocks over to a new, bigger place. It’s a transition, and the uncertainty and stress bring out Kenny Shopsin’s most Shopsinesque qualities: the guy does not shut up, and he entertainingly holds forth on every possible topic from the state of world affairs, the arrows they put on plastic grocery store fruit bags and the titular topic of the joys of killing flies in an urban eatery.
The story of Shopsins is also a story of family – Kenny and his wife have five kids, who spend their summers working with their dad. It’s a strange family (even I blushed at some of Shopsin’s language – at one point his two examples of hobbies are getting fisted in the ass and collecting porcelain figurines), but it’s a loving one. It’s one of those families – eccentric New York Jews – that make a wonderful mockery of traditional family values. These people don’t live their lives the way the GOP wants them to, but they’re supportive and happy anyway.
I Like Killing Flies is shot on digital which, on the DVD screener I received, gives everything a herky jerky webcam look. It’s distracting at first, but you start to ignore it, since the movie isn’t about the visuals but about the people.
Shopsins’ move is really indicative of the New York City of today. The place goes from being a small, dark hole in the wall on a side street to a big, airy restaurant on a main strip. Kenny brings over the ephemera he collected over the years at the original location, but at the new place they look like wacky TGI Fridays style affectations. I would have liked for the film to stick with Shopsin after the move; instead Mahurin uses the move as his end point, adding on a one year later epilogue. Kenny’s concerned with how the move will affect him, worried that he won’t be able to adjust to the new environment. Mahurin shows a little of the adjustment – on the first day at the new location Kenny can’t find any of his ingredients – but I feel like there’s a whole other story here.
I Like Killing Flies, terrible title and all, is an enjoyable cinematic experience, a fun and entertaining look at a uniquely New York personality. But where it succeeded the most was in making me hungry, and convincing me that this week I’ll have to make my first trip to the new Shopsins.