By Cody Myers
In a world where biopics are as common as sequels, Netflix has released another success anthem for college students. “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is a movie about Doug Kenney and how he changed the comedy world forever by creating the magazine National Lampoon, and films “Animal House,” and “Caddy Shack.” The film is self-aware and often relies on fourth wall breaks to transition through Kenney’s life.
These fourth wall breaks are delivered by an older version of Doug Kenney, played by Martin Mull. Mull’s character serves as a voice of wisdom, explaining what his younger self, played by Will Forte, is up to. The film covers Kenney’s life from his time at Harvard, to his death at age 33. It is based on a book of the same name by Josh Karp.
Doug Kenney was a quirky middle-class kid from Ohio, who got accepted into Harvard. Fearing Law School, he convinces his best friend Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) to set aside his life, to continue their College comedy magazine, the Harvard Lampoon. Henry plays the straight man to Doug’s unhinged antics. Despite never being able to make a deadline in college and being constantly sued, they find unprecedented success in their counterculture approach.
They target people in their demographic because their viewpoint is constantly belittled and ignored in the 1970’s. As National Lampoon’s success grew, so did its projects and Doug’s stress. This stress leads to a divorce, drug abuse, and loneliness, all culminating in a mental breakdown.
While there is truth in comedy, it is difficult to condense a decade’s worth of work into a 101-minute runtime. This is where the movie, much like the National Lampoon, enters a gray area. The film changes facts and events to create a better timed and an overall funnier movie. There’s a fine line between truth and comedy. Mull’s Kenney addresses these white lies early in the runtime and follows the statement with a fast-scrolling list of other events that were changed to tell a better story.
However, movies are rarely made to appeal to every demographic. Much like National Lampoon, this movie was made for young adults. It’s an unlikely success story from an outsider who died young. This generation idolizes successful yet flawed individuals.
This movie is no “Wolf of Wall Street,” but it is evoking the same ideas. It’s inspiring, yet acts as a cautionary tale. By twisting the truth, this movie may be more respectful to Doug Kenney than most critics give it credit for.
The movie is a rollercoaster ride of emotions that leads to “A Futile and Stupid Gesture,” but it is much more than that. The movie wraps everything up in a heart wrenching, yet funny scene that is worth the wait. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a playful retelling of a comedy history that deserves to be seen.