It is likely that not many people know who Doug Kenney is. It is likely that, especially today, not many people know what The National Lampoon franchise is. It is likely that Doug Kenney was one of the most successful writers of the 20th century. Netflix has recently paid homage to this unsung comedy hero by showing A Futile and Stupid Gesture – a film about the short-lived life of Douglas C. Kenney, that has recently aired at Sundance.
As the mastermind behind Animal House, Caddyshack and the co-creator of The National Lampoon magazine, Kenney himself was a comedic legend, creating some of the most successful comedy films to date. However, when he took his life in 1980, it was obvious that this success had taken its toll.
This movie is somehow hilarious and deeply upsetting all at the same time. A man who spent his life making other people laugh, making generations of people laugh, takes his own life in Hawaii, on a rehab retreat with Chevy Chase. This stuff couldn’t be written if you tried.
This is quite possibly one of the most self-indulgent, show-offish, ‘look at how funny we are’ films that I have ever seen. It is almost ironic in how hard it tries to be funny when talking about a man whose main talent was being naturally hysterical. It’s a meta, fourth-wall breaking extravaganza of mildly famous actors portraying people who should have gotten more credit the first time around.
Will Forte plays Kenney: a casting choice that is questionable but is mocked throughout the film itself. Having an actor who is 13 years older than the actual person he is playing try and play a college senior is a joke in itself. However, despite the obvious age discrepancy, Forte is hilariously idiotic and heart-wrenchingly troubled as Kenney, taking the fallout of daddy and drug issues to a tear-inducing finale.
However, a biopic about a fairly unknown man who is surrounded by fairly well-known men, like Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, and John Belushi, calls for a lot of actors who you think you might have seen somewhere before but you’re not really sure. For example, Matt Lucas makes an appearance, as does Jason Sudeikis, Domnhall Gleeson, and Seth Green. This inclusion of that many actors in such small parts takes away from the plot itself, instead just making you focus on what you might have seen that one bloke in before.
As someone who dislikes the National Lampoon movies (yes, even Christmas Vacation) I was surprised that I could actually tolerate this film. Kenney himself was a messed-up man: there were moments in the film where I hated him. He is arrogant, sexist, and selfish. These are facts. But something about his ability to get himself into these awful situations and then bring something funny out of them is endearing and, ultimately, special.
This movie is a showcase of all of the wonderful things that Douglas C. Kenney created, imagined, and did, in his very short life. It’s a celebration of a front-runner in modern comedy, the inspiration behind SNL and the writer of the most successful comedy film ever (at the time) on his first try. We have a lot to thank Doug Kenney for. Even if we are only just learning who he is now.
There is a reason that this movie is called A Futile and Stupid Gesture. It’s because after everything he did for us, after everything he created, after every laugh he wrote down: all we can give him is a mediocre comedy film.