A Futile and Stupid Gesture Review

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a 2018 biographical comedy about the success and influence of National Lampoon.

Anyone who’s seen a comedy movie in the last forty years surely has seen the moniker “National Lampoon” attached to some the funniest titles in cinema. Think of Animal House, Caddyshack, the Vacation series and many more. With David Wain‘s latest A Futile and Stupid Gesture, the story of that name gets its own comedy take, looking back with a somewhat sardonic eye on the origins of the Lampoon and how it got to be what it is today. It might not take itself seriously, nor perhaps should it, but it’s does give roots to the name and the men who would change comedy forever.

Embracing a documentary style, even as the real life characters are portrayed by actors, we meet Doug Kenney, the mastermind and guiding force behind what started with humble but successful beginnings. He’s played first by Martin Mull, credited as ‘modern Doug’, the subject of the show who then flashes back to the past, with Will Forte taking the reins, walking us through the early years at the prestigious university where he and his writing partner Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson), over a few years, create the Harvard Lampoon, a chapter at the school dedicated to absurd humor, spoofs and parody, their biggest success being a pun-filled book called Bored of the Rings (something I myself read decades ago after dutifully immersing myself in the Tolkien universe). From there, facing graduation and a life chained to some humdrum business, Kenney decides to go national, creating the now famous magazine, and soon, an empire of comedy in film and television.

If you know anything about Kenney, you probably known that he died in 1980 at age 33, making the ‘modern Doug’ a bit of curiosity, perhaps a projection of what he might be like if he were still among us, and indeed, Mull does it right. The movie isn’t looking to illuminate the man, even as it traces an accurate timeline, but rather celebrate him as only Doug would have liked, the film adapted from the book A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever by Josh Karp and takes us behind the scenes of Kenney’s short but very funny journey.

Along the way, we meet many players who came to be part of his life and went on to find great success, from his friend Chevy Chase (played by his former Community co-star Joel McHale) to Bill Murray (Jon Daly), Gilda Radner (Jackie Tohn), and many others. It’s insightful and playful, and always with a sort of wink at the character as Forte embraces Kenney with plenty of wit while never truly trying to outright be consumed by him, à la Jim Carrey‘s take on Andy Kaufman. Nonetheless, Forte is very good, his style of comedy already a glove-fit for the film and Gleeson equally smart as well, clearly having some fun with Beard.

While A Futile and Stupid Gesture is more a glimpse into the life of Kenney than a real expose on National Lampoon itself, it at least has people who understand the man’s philosophy to comedy, with Wain a good choice to helm such a project. However, it’s never quite as rough around the edges or as daring as it feels like it should be, especially when you think about those movies I mentioned before. Still, this is a story well worth knowing and will certainly gain you some appreciation of Kenney himself. 

A Futile and Stupid Gesture Review


Director(s): David Wain

Actor(s): Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, Emmy Rossum, Natasha Lyonne

Genre: Comedy, Biography

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