Occasionally, Netflix knocks it out of the park with their projects. In what may unfortunately get swept away in the flood of original series and movies released by the subscription giant this year, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is more than the cliché rollercoaster ride of a story. It’s the whole amusement park. The biographical comedy is based on the life of Doug Kenney, the co-founder of National Lampoon. Gesture stars Will Forte and a handful of other underappreciated comedians playing larger-than-life legendary comedians. We haven’t seen enough major endeavors from Forte. The world needs more.
National Lampoon is mostly remembered for producing some of the most successful comedies of all time, like “Animal House”, “Caddyshack”, and the “Vacation” franchise. Sadly, its name has been attached to several B-movies since those days and the brand strength has been severely diluted. Without giving too much of the movie away, there’s a major reason for the decline in quality of Nation Lampoon movies. What newer generations might not recognize is how National Lampoon was actually one of the first humor magazines in circulation and is responsible for some of the biggest names in comedy.
Kenney was a Harvard grad who found his stride writing for a campus magazine of the same name. He and his writing partner, Henry Beard, decide to go all in after finishing school and releasing a well-received parody of The Lord of the Rings. They start the magazine from the ground up after a last-ditch meeting with an unlikely publisher. Together, with their ragtag and sometimes volatile team of writers, they created a booming brand that produced some timeless material. One of the highlights of the show is the introduction of incredibly famous characters and the satirical humor behind their lack of resemblance to the real actors they are portraying.
“Gesture” shines a bright light on the dark backstory of Kenney. He was a troubled soul with a lot to give to the world. His contribution to comedy was considerably underappreciated. The National Lampoon Radio Show gave us Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, and others who would go on to see fame on Saturday Night Live. Kenney didn’t reach the level of being a household name. Behind-the-scene role players rarely do. In “Gestures”, he has a face-off with Lorne Michaels, the creator of SNL, whom he sees as a more successful mirror of himself.
Forte was the perfect casting for the complex role of Kenney. The comedic timing it takes to hit all the marks in a tragic comedy is difficult if you aren’t fully committed. Emily Rossum, of Shameless, is a kind and sweet love interest who falls for the shitiest person she can find, in typical Fiona fashion. Joel McHale as Chevy Chase was quite a reach for the former The Soup host, but he delivers. The role of Beard, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is where the acting is taken to the next level. Beard isn’t an over-the-top character by any means, but both his demeanor and sincerity are the perfect yin to Forte/Kenney’s Yang.
The verdict of “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is simple. It’s on Netflix so it won’t cost you anything extra to watch it. The movie is a damn good way to spend a couple of hours. The only regrettable time commitment you’ll have is the hour you’ll spend on Wikipedia afterwards seeing what all of those people are up to nowadays. Don’t watch it with the kids on family movie night, because it has some adult content, but nothing too raunchy. Do yourself and watch this movie. The ending will blow you away after one of the most original plots audiences have ever seen in a biographical film. The movie is easily a solid 9, give or take 1 depending on the type of comedy you usually enjoy. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie.