Release Date: January 26, 2018
Directed by: David Wain
Runtime: 101 minutes
Film comedy has been struggling in recent years with so many made with only a general plot structure in mind and an expectation that the actors (normally very funny people) will riff and make up jokes along the way. This is why, at the end of each of these kinds of comedies (think Baywatch or Snatched from last year or any Will Ferrell joint from the 2000s), you get a series of outtakes with alternate jokes for every scene of the film.
These comedies work occasionally, but they don’t hold a candle to the Airplane model of comedy where jokes were written into the script to keep the laughs coming scene by scene, moment by moment. DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story was the last film of this kind that really stuck with me until A Futile and Stupid Gesture began, and my sides split with giggles.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a biographical film about Doug Kenney, one of the founders of National Lampoon. Kenney (Will Forte) meets his writing partner, Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson), at Harvard, where they run the Harvard Lampoon while finishing their degrees and writing a Lord of the Rings parody. Eventually the two friends go to the big city and make their magazine go national.
The story is told by an older (fictional) Kenney, played by Martin Mull, who shows up sporadically to add an extra layer of jokes and metahumor. When introducing the early Lampoon writers, he gives full introductions for four of them and then tells the various others to shove it because they could only fit four properly into the story.
Similarly, the film doesn’t shy away from the obvious problem of the generation gap. National Lampoon was in no way politically correct, and this film uses that fact to call attention to the legitimate problems with the magazine at the time and the people writing it, making them the butt of many a joke for being out of touch even then.
This is an important point when we remember how this story ends. Doug Kenney died sick and addicted to cocaine at the age of 33. There’s no way to tell this story with Kenney as an undisputed hero because he just wasn’t that. He brought a lot of great comedy into the world, but that doesn’t make him an untouchable icon because that would go against the very comic spirit of Kenney and National Lampoon.
Point is, this movie is funny, and Netflix is not advertising it enough. If it weren’t on our list of films needing reviews, I wouldn’t have heard about it, which would have been a travesty. When you have a spare couple hours, relax and enjoy the laughs.