"Diary of a Wasted Life"
A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE is a comical biopic about Doug Kenney, the co-founder of NATIONAL LAMPOON magazine, the iconoclastic humor publication. Kenney’s tragic life building a comedy empire leaves this excessively immoral, anti-biblical movie struggling to decide whether it’s a comedy or a drama, succeeding as neither.
After leaving a middle-class existence in Ohio, Doug Kenney struggles to fitting into 1960s-era Harvard College – until he and co-writer Henry Beard hit it off writing the HARVARD LAMPOON. In time, they decide to launch the first national humor magazine aimed at Baby Boomers who have embraced the counterculture. Kenney’s inability to find peace, or gain his father’s approval, drives him deeper into isolation and desperation.
Kenney lives a life of blatant excess. He’s a workaholic, a womanizer and a prolific abuser of a cornucopia of drugs. His irreverent sense of humor has him succeeding beyond his wildest dreams, making the magazine financially viable, branching out into radio and then co-writing two of the most popular comedies of all time, ANIMAL HOUSE and CADDYSHACK. Along the way, he developed such talented writers as Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, P.J. O’Rourke, and Harold Ramis.
Kenney’s earthly success wins him fleeting acclaim, but he can never win the approval of the man who matters the most: his father. He seems destined to push away everyone who ever cared about him, including his friend, Henry, his first wife and his live-in girlfriend, before the funnyman’s life ends in tragedy.
A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a drama and succeeds at neither. However, there are many funny moments. In one inspired moment, it displays a list of its own historical inaccuracies. The tragedy is on display, as well. Like other Hollywood depictions of comedians (like Richard Pryor’s thinly veiled autobiography, JO JO DANCER, YOUR LIFE IS CALLING), though, the “comedy” contains more misses than hits. Without hearty laughs or characters worth embracing, the movie gives viewers little reason to sit through it.
The star-rich ensemble gives convincing performances. Domhnall Gleeson and Emmy Rossum are perfect in every scene. Natasha Lyonne, Joel McHale and Thomas Lennon bring heart to their roles. Jon Daly’s portrayal of Bill Murray is an imitation worthy of Rich Little or Dana Carvey. Even Martin Mull perfectly embodies what Kenney might have become, had he not died in 1980 at the age of 33.
The movie mirrors real-life New York City and Hollywood counterculture in the Sixties and Seventies. Sex, nudity and substance abuse fills virtually every scene. Republicans, religious groups and homemakers are parodied or belittled. In one scene, blacks are portrayed as inherently anti-Semitic. Intended as off-the-wall humor, the jokes always target only one side of the culture wars (in addition to falling flat).
The movie buries a few redeeming elements. The story of the importance of a father’s love and approval, the depiction of a true (if unmarried) love, and a lasting friendship get lost in the movie’s confusing tone and excessively immoral content. The final scene, which is the titular “futile and stupid gesture,” encapsulates the title character’s hedonistic approach to life and the pain and waste it produces.
If your plans call for “Netflix and chill,” you might want to skip this Netflix Original.
A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE is a mash-up comedy and drama about the tragic, true life story of Doug Kenney, co-founder of NATIONAL LAMPOON magazine. The movie follows Kenney from suburban Ohio, to Harvard, to the heights of comedic glory as he writes two of the most successful comedy movies of the last 50 years. Sadly, the iconoclastic workaholic can’t win his father’s approval, maintain a genuine relationship, or face the truth that his excesses are killing him.
Some good performances and funny moments can’t save A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE from its inner confusion. Is it a comedy or a drama? Even dedicated fans of the magazine’s comedy empire will have a hard time enjoying the movie. Along its meandering way, the movie takes viewers on a first-person tour of the Sixties and Seventies counterculture, with graphic nudity, substance abuse and a hedonistic lifestyle embracing casual sex, adultery, and moral relativism. Its excessive immorality and anti-biblical, politically correct worldview are abhorrent. In the end, like its title character, A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE is a confused waste of time and talent.