Friday, January 26, 2018

A Futile and Stupid Gesture: Movie Review


   


Funny, witty, tragic – a great comedy.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is about the life of Doug Kenney. The funny man behind the National Lampoon and a defining force of the comedy scene in the 1970s. By every definition of the phrase, an actual comic genius, who took the art of comedy to new highs, the other kind of high, and then the resulting lows. This is a truly great comedy; not only very funny but it’s actually about something more than just being funny. 2018

Directed by: David Wain

Screenplay by: Michael Colton, John Aboud
Based on the book by Josh Karp

Starring: Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson

The movie is every bit as funny as you would expect Doug Kenney to be in real life. It’s clever, witty, and with hilarious one-liners thrown in every few minutes – the kind that you’re laughing at that you miss the next line, or that you’re repeating because it was unexpectedly funny and you want to remember, such that you then miss the next line. But hey, it’s on Netflix, just skip back a few seconds.

Extremely self-referential, the narrative is framed by Martin Mull as older Doug to help move the film along to each stage in his life. He makes jokes at every opportunity, and explains some of the creative licenses that the movie has to make: “You don’t actually think that I looked like Will Forte when I was 27? Wait, you don’t actually think that Will Forte looks 27?” This leads us to Will Forte as Doug Kenney. A brilliant performance that effortlessly moves from the tireless pursuit of hilarious comedy to the tragedy of self-dissatisfaction.

Will Forte and Domhnall Gleeson in A Futile and Stupid Gesture. Photo Credit: John P. Fleenor / Netflix
I really only knew of Doug Kenney as the creator of National Lampoon and knew nothing of the rest of his life. His story is a very common one found in the comedy industry. His brilliance is finally given the recognition it deserves, he achieves the success he always dreamed of, but instead of success leading to happiness, that success leads to drugs, greater ambition and greater disappointment. A fruitless search for something he won’t ever be able to find. The title, by the way, works on at least three different levels.

Something Doug Kenney did achieve was finding and cultivating many of the great comedians who paved the way for today’s stars. And that’s exactly what this movie features, a who’s who of today’s comedians playing a who’s who of their idols. Impersonations of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner and Christopher Guest are some of the bigger names, but the one I have to highlight is Thomas Lennon as Michael O’Donoghue – very funny and the one who best captures the style of comedy National Lampoon is known for.

Written by Michael Colton and John Aboud based on the book by Josh Karp, A Futile and Stupid Gesture successfully melds the comedy of Doug Kenney with the life of Doug Kenney. The ending came as a punch to the gut, but here’s the kicker, it was still funny. Domhnall Gleeson and Emmy Rossum lent a great amount of emotional weight in excellent supporting turns, but ultimately this was Forte’s movie – funny, witty, tragic, a great comedy.


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