A Futile and Stupid Gesture, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018)

One of the pitfalls of the biopic genre is the lack of potential for a surprise ending. When cursory knowledge of a film’s subject doesn’t betray their ultimate fate, it will often be telegraphed by their story being told in flashback. Kudo’s then to the makers of this biopic who, in keeping with Doug Kenney’s brand of humour, have cleverly upended such preconceptions.

 

Though modern-day Kenney concedes at the start of this biopic that we have probably never heard of him, he nevertheless guides us through this look back at his major accomplishments. Starting at Harvard “because that's where the fun stuff was”, Kenney teams up with Henry Beard on the university’s publication Harvard Lampoon. After graduation, Kenney convinces Beard to start their own magazine, National Lampoon, with the promise that they will walk away when they stop having fun. That point in time happens to coincide with a decline in the film’s fun quotient as well.

 

Which is surprising, for we haven’t even got to Animal House (1978) and Caddyshack (1980). Yet the humour found in offending parents and publishers inexplicably doesn’t translate to making of these films. Perhaps it’s because that, by then, Kenney’s life has spiralled so much out of control that his endearing aimlessness has lost its appeal.

 

Regardless, the biopic’s trajectory too closely mirrors that of its subject - starts off strong, has occasional flashes of brilliance, and then just sort of peters out.

Will Forte, Douglas Kenney, Domhnall Gleeson, ted knight, chevy chase
Will Forte
Will Forte

as Douglas Kenney

Emmy Rossum
Emmy Rossum

as Kathryn Walker

Joel McHale
Joel McHale

as Chevy Chase

Jon Daly
Jon Daly

as Bill Murray

1/7
Rodney Dangerfield, John Belushi, Seth Green, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray

Biopic thoughtfully lists some things changed from real life for pacing, dramatic impact, or just because the filmmakers felt like it. Here are a few…
 

'Bored of the Rings' was published after Doug and Henry graduated from college.

 

Doug did not have to persuade Henry into starting the magazine. 

 

There was a third founder of National Lampoon named Rob Hoffman. 

 

Anne Beatts, Tony Hendra and Brian McConnachie were not part of the Lampoon at its birth. 

 

Gilda Radner was not in 'Lemmings'.

 

Animal House and Caddyshack were made for different studios. “Brad,” the studio executive, is a composite character.

 

Everyone was a lot more sexist and racist than they appear to be.

 

and… that’s not Will Forte’s real hair.

Thomas Lennon, Michael O'Donoghue, Joel McHale, Rick Glassman, Harold Ramis

Clip courtesy of Dimitri Bitu

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