Once again, Netflix delivers a fantastic movie you didn’t know you wanted. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is the story of National Lampoon and its co-founder, Doug Kenney. Showcasing a who’s who of comedy talents playing the who’s who of comedy talent in decades past.
Doug Kenney (Will Forte) is a man raised in a well to do family. He attends an IVY League school and on track to become what’s considered one of the noble professions. During his time in school Kenney, who is naturally funny, starts a humor rag with some friends of his. The Lampoon is spoofs and shock humor. Kenney convinces his friend Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) the magazine is more than a college project.
Kenney and Beard pitch National Lampoon to every publication possible. They strike a deal and get to work. Their budget is non-existent. The driving force of Kenney’s manic brain mixed with Beard’s sense for business gets National Lampoon off the ground. A young crew of comedy writers join. These writers are nobodies when they start but become (and remain) household names. Kenney discovered the original cast of SNL without knowing it.
National Lampoon becomes a hit. The stress is too much on Kenney as his personal demons rear their ugly heads . Always worried about not doing enough and being forgotten. Kenney strays down a path of drugs and depression that all the success in the world can’t cover.
Everyone is aware of National Lampoon. The gags and controversial magazine covers are pure pop culture history. Doug Kenney may even be a name you’ve heard before. The details outlined in this movie go far deeper than what the casual fan knows.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture brings an interesting blend of narration, flashbacks, comedy, and drama. The movie admits to itself and its audience that it isn’t 100% fact based. Details are always moved, timelines squished, and poetic license taken to tell an interesting story. The fact that Gesture calls these out as it runs is funny but also allows the audience to read between the lines and pull even more truth from it.
The power of A Futile and Stupid Gesture is in it’s tragic story. The catalyst is Will Forte. Forte has been working a long time. He was best known for stupid comedies and guest spots until more recently. Forte has proven himself after changing up his career path. A dramatic turn in Nebraska. Great voice acting in The Lego Movie. Landing the lead on a hit sitcom The Last Man on Earth.
The ability to mix the insane with the dramatic is pitch-perfect in Gesture. Forte’s portrayal of Kenney tells the whole story while leaving you wanting more.
Forte does much of the heavy lifting the staggering cast around him completes the world. The movie calls out some of the casting on inaccuracies but that adds to the fun. It’d be another three-thousand words to list everyone involved and their credentials.
The narration is anything but a crutch in this story. Martin Mull plays the embodiment of ‘Modern Doug’. A creation for narration, Modern Doug falls inline with Lampoon’s own styling. Lampoon took on serious things and then took the piss out of them. The magazine was faced with countless lawsuits that it sported more as accomplishments than determinants.
Writers Michael Colton and John Aboud had the difficult task of making a biopic that was more comedy than fact while still holding true to the facts. Director David Wain took decades of story telling and fit it into a lean 101 minutes. All the pieces are in play and though tragedy is prevalent in Kenney’s story it never feels like a downer.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is the rare movie that is pitch perfect in every single last way. It breaks the rules as much as National Lampoon did but because it does it so well, you never care.