UK Release Date: 26th January 2018
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: David Wain
Writer: John Aboud, Michael Colton
Starring: Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, Nelson Franklin, Neil Casey, Joel McHale, Ed Helms, Jon Daly, John Gemberling, Martin Mull
Synopsis: The story of the rise of National Lampoon, which started as an acerbic magazine run by Harvard graduates and eventually became a renowned global entertainment brand.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a biopic detailing the creation of National Lampoon. The company was a highly influential comedy production house that produced radical and inflammatory humour magazines, radio shows and eventually movies including Animal House and Caddyshack.
The film focuses in on one of the key creators, Doug Kenney (Will Forte), and follows his life from meeting with life-long friend Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) at Harvard, through the creation of the National Lampoon comic and the productions of both Animal House and Caddyshack before Kenney’s untimely death at the age of 33.
Director David Wain, best known for Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, seems keen to avoid the pitfalls of traditional biopic storytelling by lightly poking fun at the format throughout, even going as far as to take a quote directly from the best example of biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. While this approach provides laughs at times and does allow the whole tale to have a fairytale, dream-like approach to Kenney’s early career, it hampers some of the key dramatic elements that make the story so interesting.
Kenney was not only a comedic revolutionary, but also had a litany of issues with infidelity and drug abuse. When these elements enter the storym they fail to hit as hard or land as well as they should. There are some interesting moments of time loss due to Kenney’s drug use that would have impacted with more power had the production taken itself a little more seriously.
Other aspects also hamper proceedings. A narration provided by Martin Mull as an older version of Kenney provides some fourth wall breaking jokes, but ends up muddling proceedings. Knowing Kenney died at age 33 seems to suggest that this casting is an attempt to throw off those unfamiliar with the man, but the movie is so packed full of fan references to Lampoon and its huge roster of alumni that it never decides whether it wants to inform newcomers of this story or work as a Lampoon-style take on themselves for fans.
Adding to this confusion is the casting. While Forte and Gleeson excel in their lead roles, the supporting cast is made up of good actors that really don’t fit the bill for their portrayal. The movie even attempts make a joke of this, but it doesn’t work because half the time you’re trying to remember who’s playing who. Joel McHale may be very good as Chevy Chase here, but it still just doesn’t quite fit when there is barely any attempt to impersonate at all.
Although I’m being negative, I did enjoy watching A Futile and Stupid Gesture. It’s a key part of American comedy history that deserves to be heard and Kenney’s life is a really interesting story of a man riddled with vices and self doubt. I’d be remiss in not mentioning how well Forte and Gleeson play off each other. You feel their friendship and instantly understand their anarchic senses of humour. They’re very different people, but you really understand why they loved each other so much and how they created such a timely comedic vision. The ending is fantastic as well and lets go of the cynicism of its own genre to present something heart-warming and appreciative of a comic icon gone too soon.
Pop or Poop?
I’d recommend seeing A Futile and Stupid Gesture but it also makes me wish someone else had made the movie. I’m a big David Wain fan but there’s a better movie to be made with this story. What is here is still enjoyable, though, while not being any sort of classic.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.