The ups and downs of ‘National Lampoon’ co-creator Douglas Kenney
By Veronnica MacKillop, Senior Columnist
First premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, then becoming available on Netflix immediately after, the new film A Futile and Stupid Gesture tells the wild story of a team that forever revolutionized comedy.
The film is a biopic on the life of Doug Kenney, one of the two original founders of National Lampoon magazine back in 1970, and writer of their first two movies, Animal House and Caddyshack. The movie follows the story of his life, starting with him meeting co-founder Henry Beard at Harvard, continuing on to showthe two of them starting the Lampoon, and the many ups and downs from there until the mid-’80s. Futile also shows the creation of the radio show, the live comedy show, and the first two movies, as well as the beginning of Saturday Night Live, which featured a lot of the cast and crew from the Lampoon.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture has received a mixed bag of reviews. It has earned both criticism and praise for its retelling of the early days of Lampoon. You will either love Will Forte’s portrayal of Kenney, or you’ll hate his bad wig (and distracting) sideburns. The film has just barely squeaked by as Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, earning a 62 per cent on the Tomatometer, but 75 per cent in audience reviews. It also features an odd narrative choice, which viewers seem to find as either a confusing style or an interesting twist at the end, depending on how much you know about the original creators of National Lampoon, or if you’ve read the book that the movie is based on.
The cast in this movie is superb. Alongside Forte, Domhnall Gleeson delivers a great performance as Henry Beard. Natasha Lyonne plays Anne Beatts, Joel McHale as Chevy Chase, and Martin Mull plays an older version of Doug Kenney. The cast also features Seth Green, Thomas Lennon, Emmy Rossum, Jackie Tohn, and many more. Older Kenney points out that “not all of these guys look like the original actors,” which makes the bad wigs and physical differences between people such as Jon Daly as Bill Murray more comical than awkward.
If you’ve ever flipped through the National Lampoon magazine, or watched one of their earlier projects, you might have thought, “Who comes up with this stuff?” This movie shows you just who could be creative enough to take comedy to that level. One scene in Futile shows all the different times they were sued by various people and groups, but also the magazine getting more and more successful. And if you think food fights are underused in movies, Futile has three. The film does an exceptional job of showcasing the wackiness behind Lampoon, including all the drugs, the fights, and the ridiculous ideas that were either a huge hit or a complete miss.
Despite the mixed response, A Futile and Stupid Gesture tells the classic rag-to-riches story in a refreshing way—with a great cast, witty buffoonery, and an honest look at the life of comedy legend Doug Kenney.