A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2017)


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Critic Consensus: A Futile and Stupid Gesture entertainingly recreates the birth of an influential comedic movement, even if it struggles to cover its creative ground.

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Movie Info

The rise and fall of humor magazine National Lampoon and its co-founder Doug Kenney (played by Will Forte) is recounted in this biopic directed by David Wain. Domhnall Gleeson, Joel McHale, Seth Green and Thomas Lennon co-star in this ensemble homage to the subversive humorists who changed the American comedy landscape.

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Cast

Will Forte
as Douglas Kenney
Domhnall Gleeson
as Henry Beard
Emmy Rossum
as Kathryn Walker
Matt Walsh
as Matty Simmons
Natasha Lyonne
as Ann Beatts
Thomas Lennon
as Michael O'Donoghue
Martin Mull
as Modern Doug
Joel McHale
as Chevy Chase
Seth Green
as Christopher Guest
Jon Daly
as Bill Murray
John Gemberling
as John Belushi
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Critic Reviews for A Futile and Stupid Gesture

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (13)

A Futile And Stupid Gesture is, ultimately, anything but pointless, exploring an important moment in pop culture through the life of a man who captured its essence as well as the people who made him an institution.

Feb 6, 2018 | Full Review…
TheWrap
Top Critic

A move that, if nothing else, shockingly abandons the traditional rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-redemption four-part trajectory to which nearly every biopic slavishly adheres.

Jan 31, 2018 | Full Review…

There's a sense that the filmmakers have bitten off more than they can chew by trying to cram both the biography and the panoramic overview into one feature.

Jan 29, 2018 | Full Review…
Slate
Top Critic

A Futile and Stupid Gesture feels like a quick tour of a man's greatest hits that relies on his accomplishments, rather than any storytelling artistry, to impress the audience.

Jan 26, 2018 | Full Review…

A thoughtful yet playful biography about an unsung comedy genius.

Jan 26, 2018 | Full Review…
CNN.com
Top Critic

While there's a bit of hero worship going on that deflates the piece, and Wain's direction is surprisingly uninspired, the biggest problem is the script that tries to cover too much ground.

Jan 26, 2018 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for A Futile and Stupid Gesture

You know, there's a thing that people often associate with geniuses, whether they be literary, musical or comedy geniuses, that they're tortured souls that flame out way before their time. You don't necessarily even have to die for this to be the case, but people more often than not remember those who passed away at the peak of their creative (or commercial) success. People like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Ernest Hemingway immediately come to mind. Though, admittedly, the latter was in his early 60s when he committed suicide. All the others died at the age of 27, which sparked a conspiracy theory (because of course it did) concerning as to why these important figures in music died at the same age. This movie focuses on what some would call a comedy genius, as far as writing was concerned, in Doug Kenney. I don't even know why anyone would deny Doug Kenney's genius in helping shape comedy not just in the 70s and 80s, but even to this day his influence is still being felt to this day, almost four decades after Kenney's death. National Lampoon's creation and its output, from stage shows, to albums, to radio shows and (of course) the magazine definitely helped kick-start Saturday Night Live, who took many of Lampoon's sketch performers and writers as members of its cast and writing crew. SNL is still in the air as we speak. SNL succeeded because it had the right cast with the right humor at the right time and that can't be attributed to National Lampoon, but they definitely showcased a spotlight on a different style of humor that would be popularized in the coming decades. You could make the argument that people like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and those types of guys are what National Lampoon would look like in the modern era. And, I'm fairly certain that the Seth Rogens of the world and such idolize the Lampoon style of comedy. So, again, the influence that brand has had on comedy continues to be felt to this day and, honestly, will continue to be felt for years to come, even if the majority of casual movie audiences might not even realize it. Having said that, naturally, Doug Kenney co-created the magazine with Henry Beard and, even then, they weren't the only contributors to the magazine and every other outlet they may have had. But, obviously, Doug and Henry were the co-captains of this pirate ship, so to speak. The first half or so of the film deals with Doug and Henry's struggles to get the magazine up and running and how, at first, they struggle to break even on the magazine. Naturally, of course, the magazine starts picking up steam and you get to see the rewards of that success. But, of course, this is really where the downfall for Doug starts. After stretching himself creatively thin over various different outlets (radio, live performances, albums, the magazine itself), Doug is completely burnt out and he just walks out on his partner and fellow writers. This is only 40 minutes into the film, mind you, so you're curious how they're gonna follow all of this up. He left Henry, alone, to carry the load of making sure the magazine went out on time, making sure to manage all the egos with all the writers, the lack of any upward mobility in terms of economic stability (since, at this point, Matty still hasn't bought them out). He basically ditches Henry to go on a six-month sabbatical to clear his mind and, maybe, come back to the Lampoon with renewed vigor and passion. Once he returns, he forces Matty to buy them out, finally giving Doug and Henry the money they deserved for making the Lampoon into a behemoth, but eventually Henry quits, feeling unhappy at everything that has transpired. After Doug comes back, he struggles to maintain relevant. This doesn't last long, and fast forwarding a bit, he ends up pitching Animal House to Universal, who, begrudgingly, agreed to finance the movie. Animal House, at the time, became the most successful comedy of all time. Doug did this on his first try. And I feel that this is where the beginning of the end comes for Doug. Doug always tries to play everything off as a joke, he's always looking to drop in an one-liner. This is as a result of his own insecurities as a result of his relationship with his dad (whose oldest son, the golden boy, died and ever since then, nothing Doug has done could make him proud, no matter how successful he is). As cliche as this might sound, but Doug is a victim of his own success. He was never satisfied with his success. Never, he was always looking forward and trying to find ways to top himself. Again, his insecurities are on full-display here. There's one scene later in the flick, where Doug and his girlfriend went to see Airplane! and when he leaves the theater, realizing that the movie he saw was a classic, he pities himself, feeling that it's over for him. Because, apparently, there can't be room for more than one successful comedy movie at one time. Everything is there to destroy his career. In a lot of ways, this story really is a sad one, because, again, Doug was never able to come to terms with his own level of success. Nothing ever satisfied him. The fact that his magazine was influential in getting SNL on the air wasn't relevant to him, what mattered to him was that, he felt, that SNL was stealing his writers and his comics. Because of these insecurities, Doug turned to alcohol. And this is where the movie gets a little predictable in its portrayal of how drugs destroyed a promising career and forced a talented comedic writer on a downward spiral that, ultimately, he would never recover from. I'm obviously glossing over a lot of the film in this review, but I'm going over, what I feel, are the most important bits. The movie, very cleverly, uses an older version of Kenney to tell his story and there's plenty of times when they break the fourth wall with Martin Mull (the older Kenney) interjecting himself in scenes that play out in the 70s or 80s. It's not obnoxious and, honestly, fits within the comedic style the movie chooses to employ. The movie is exceptionally well-cast. Will Forte does a great job as Kenney and he makes him an insufferably empathetic character. Because he does things that, really, make him look like an asshole, but you still root for him to find his way back to sobriety again. Of course, if you know how the real story played out then you know that's not gonna be the case, but you're still invested in him. But it sucks that Kenney wasn't secure enough in his own talents to realize how he helped changed the landscape of American comedy forever. Like I mentioned, Forte does a great job as Doug, but the supporting cast is very strong. It's cool seeing all these comedy legends (Belushi, Murray, Radner, Ramis and Chase) all grow together as performers under the same 'system', as it were and seeing where they would go post-National Lampoon. As far as the movie is concerned, I definitely enjoyed it. It was just a entertaining to see how this 'empire' came together. There's the obvious biographical cliches and those do hold the movie back. I'd still say this was an enjoyable movie with an influential, but tragic, lead character. I'd recommend it if you even remotely care about the history of comedy in the U.S. I'm sure the book this is based on and the Lampoon documentary give better insight into their history, but this is a good complement to that. Definitely an entertaining, if unessential, watch.

Jesse Ortega
Jesse Ortega

Super Reviewer

Forte is a very funny actor and I'm happy to see he is branching away from all the slapstick comedies he started with. Teaming up with David wain, who is also filmmaking away from the usual comedy he creates, it's interesting to see filmmakers evolve from the normal genre. The film is interesting but never goes to the depth it should, you tend to leave with the empty feeling of not receiving a real bio experience. The actors and people in this film is amazing but they never dig that deep or provide a lot of backstory, the film needed to be another 40 minutes longer. I enjoyed the film but didn't love the film, I liked the style of the film with the lampooning style but it lacked a lot depth to really set itself apart. fun but sadly forgetful. 20-03-2018.

Brendan Nicholls
Brendan Nicholls

Super Reviewer

½

I knew nothing about National Lampoon's origins or Doug Kenney prior to watching this. It's funny and, for what it's worth, makes complete sense in terms of how it throws at us the attitude it is meant to represent and seemingly remember. Will Forte is perfect.

Philip Price
Philip Price

Super Reviewer

David Wain, director of famed comedies such as Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, is asked to tackle a biopic of unsung comedian Doug Kenney, founder, creator, and life of National Lampoon. While the movie is flush with one liners, packed with an assortment of famous comedians portraying other comedians, and a real story worth telling, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is too self aware and stuffed with too much information to really drive home any particular point. I wouldn't call this film laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it does make you chuckle consistently from beginning to end thanks to Will Forte's fantastic portrayal of Kenney. I just think a story like this is better served being delivered as a documentary with personal tales from former members of the Lampoon brand instead of this meta delivery Wain gives us. The problem is I was so entertained by learning about how Lampoon became a comedic powerhouse (and the influence it had on the rise of other comedic drivers like SNL) that I nearly forgot toward the end of the film that this was still a movie about Kenney. Wain glosses over too much on both sides due to his need to jump back and forth between Lampoon and Kenney, especially over the back third of the movie when a deeper character study was needed to show just how disturbed Kenney became. Outside Forte, the list of names is endless for comedic actors asked to lend a hand. Domhnall Gleeson takes on the roll of his partner Henry Beard who never really gets much depth past the partner in crime. For some reason, I still can't peg Gleeson, and I'm still weary of his casting in most things. Additions of Joel McHale as Chevy Chase are spot on while other portrayals like John Gemberling bear nearly zero resemblance to John Belushi outside of size and first name. If someone was looking to get more information about Lampoon and how it came to be, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is certainly a good start to understand just how wide of a net the comic magazine cast in its early days in the 70's. For a deeper understanding about the brand an the man who started it all, deeper research is needed.

Lane Zieben
Lane Zieben

Super Reviewer

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