Released: January 26, 2018
Runtime: 101 minutes
Directed by David Wain (Wanderlust, Role Models)
Written by John Aboud (Best Week Ever, Modern Humorist), Michael Colton (I Love the ‘80s)
Cinematography by Kevin Atkinson (Wet Hot American Summer, Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie)
Based on A Futile and Stupid Gesture by Josh Karp
Produced by Jonathan Stern (Burning Love, Wainy Days), Peter Principato (Central Intelligence, Keanu), Ted Sarandos (Chief Content Officer for Netflix)
Starring Will Forte (Grown Ups 2, The Last Man on Earth), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Martin Mull (Mrs. Doubtfire, Two and a Half Men), Joel McHale (A Merry Friggin’ Christmas, Community), Thomas Lennon (I Love You, Man, Hot Tub Time Machine), John Gemberling (Broad City, Marry Me), Jon Daly (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Masterminds), Rick Glassman (Undateable, The Sixth Lead), Jackie Tone (Sisters, The Good Place)
Billy Murray (Daly), Chevy Chase (McHale), John Belushi (Gemberling), and Gilda Radner (Tone) all began their successful, comedic careers by performing on Saturday Night Live (SNL). No, wait; that’s not right. Actually, it was Doug Kenney (Forte) and Henry Beard (Gleeson) at the National Lampoon Magazine that discovered these comedians first.
Written as a movie/biography, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is narrated by “Modern Doug” (Mull), as he recalls his life beginning as a child, then as a college student, and eventually a comedic magazine and film writer. There is a lot going on in this movie, so if you’re not aware of National Lampoon’s history, you may feel a bit of a fire hose effect, but you will be at the very least, entertained. Under the directorship of Wain, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, aptly named, does not take itself very seriously. There are numerous occasions where Mull, while narrating, interacts with the characters in the story, including his younger self. This is all done in good fun, and I thought kept the storytelling even more light-hearted than it already was.
Although I enjoyed the narration along with the movie’s story and characters, it was a busy movie, and one that I will need to watch again. Since I didn’t know the history of National Lampoon, and didn’t even know that Kenney and Beard existed, nearly every detail in the film was new to me. While at Harvard, Kenney and Beard co-authored a parody of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings entitled, Bored of the Rings. They were part of the comedy club, Harvard Lampoon, and used their time there as a springboard for their eventual, professional careers as founders of and writers for the National Lampoon Magazine. Many of the events depicted in the film are in fact true, but the film isn’t without its embellishments and disclaimers.
Image via Netflix
Having a good story is helpful for a movie, but a story is only as good as the actors telling it. Even though the actors portraying the real life comedians didn’t look a thing like the comedians, I felt that the film was well cast. Less emphasis was put on the looks of the actors than was put on the actors emulating the mannerisms and talking styles of the comedians. McHale, Community co-star with Chevy Chase, looked like he had a blast portraying Chase. He sounded a lot like Chase when he talked and was a constant klutz throughout the film. I couldn’t help but think of Clark Griswold when watching McHale. Another modern day, comedic juggernaut, Bill Murray, was played by Jon Daly. We really get to see Daly shine when he plays Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler, from the sports comedy, Caddyshack.
Speaking of Caddyshack, A Futile and Stupid Gesture addresses something that I think we can all relate to. We all have that friend or relative that loves Caddyshack, and won’t let us forget how great a movie it is. But upon its release, Doug Kenney, the film’s writer, became depressed, because it received mostly negative reviews. Kenney enjoyed immense success from his first film, Animal House, and didn’t take the criticism too well. One thing is for sure about Caddyshack, this film marked a short-lived, but successful director/actor combo with Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. As for Caddyshack’s reputation and status today, despite countless hours of shenanigans, laughs, and bumps of cocaine throughout filming, Caddyshack is considered one of the all-time great comedies.
Image via Pintrest
Other events in Kenney’s life are depicted, including some of his personal relationships, but the emphasis is put on his time spent forming and writing for National Lampoon Magazine and writing scripts for films. A Futile and Stupid Gesture told a captivating story in a satirical way, and I think by doing so, it payed homage to the founders of National Lampoon. The film did feel a bit bloated in storytelling while it recalled National Lampoon’s history, but A Futile and Stupid Gesture is worth the watch.