A Futile And Stupid Gesture (2018) Movie Review By Philip Henry

A Futile and Simple Gesture

Director: David Wain
Writers: Michael Colton, John Aboud. Based on the book by Josh Karp
Stars: Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, Martin Mull

Netflix really are pumping a lot of money into creating original content for their channel and unlike some other channels – I’m looking at you SyFy – they’re sparing no expense with the projects they greenlight.

This isn’t a big FX laden movie, but it is a period piece, taking place mostly in the 1970s and 80s, and that alone is enough to make producers break out in a sweat, when you start thinking about dressing everyone in the right clothes, the right hairstyles, if your characters walk down the street all the shops and vehicles have to be period correct – well, you can see how costs soon rise.

I have, of course, heard of National Lampoon’s. The first time was probably Chevy Chase taking his family on a doomed vacation to Wally World. It’s a movie I still love. Over the years I did hear something about a National Lampoon magazine, but I never saw a copy (was it even available in the UK?) and frankly thought it was a spinoff from the movies. Now I know it was the other way around.

While studying at Harvard, Doug Kenney and Henry Beard run the Harvard Lampoon – a humorous campus magazine. Instead of following their chosen paths, when they graduate they license the name to go national and start a magazine. There’s the usual trouble finding someone to back it, and people to work on it, but once it’s up and running the magazine is a huge hit, amusing and offending in equal numbers. It’s easy to see why. Some of the ideas thrown out at the staff meetings are hilarious and made me want to seek out old copies on eBay. National Lampoon magazine pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable and tasteful. They didn’t care who or what they satirised and were sued multiple times for it.

But Kenney was a restless and unhappy soul. Ever trying to seek his father’s approval and try to fill the hole in the family left by his deceased brother, you can’t help but wonder how much of this was just a cry for attention from someone perpetually stuck in adolescence. Forte’s portrayal of him is spot on, making him by turns a whirlwind of creativity and a frustrated depressive.

When Doug moves on to making films there’s much to enjoy with the recreations of Animal House and Caddyshack. You can see the actors playing Bill Murray, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, etc. are all having a ball being their heroes. There are a lot of cameos from various US TV show stars in there as well, so if you’re scratching your head wondering ‘Who was that?’ then stay for the credits and find out, and stay until after the credits if you want a cheesy little coda.

The film is very well directed with some great transitions and one scene even done as a photo story – like they used to have in magazines – giving the filmic equivalent of the chaotic and ramshackle feel of the magazine.

The end of the film is the end of Doug Kenney’s life. I was unfamiliar with who he was, so I had no idea how he died, but the film does its best not to end on a downer and succeeds.

Entertaining, inspiring and informative. A funny biopic with some serious themes behind the laughter.

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