Summary: The rise and fall of National Lampoon’s Doug Kenney.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture (AFASG, because I’m lazy) is a loving, affectionate take on the short life of Doug Kenney, who started the National Lampoon magazine, starred on its radio show, started its film legacy, and ultimately committed suicide. I admit, I went into this movie pretty blind- I know the basics of National Lampoon, the empire it established, the movies, the stars, the (somewhat) feud with Saturday Night Live, the drugs, etc., but overall National Lampoon isn’t my type of humor and so I’m extremely unfamiliar with its behind-the-scenes stuff. (I do like me some Animal House though.) It was an interesting viewing and subject aside, I really like the style and storytelling techniques they used though their application doesn’t always work here.
Alongside from its tongue-in-cheek title, AFASG is pretty creative with its narration. Told from the perspective of an older Kenney, the movie takes a lot of liberties in showing the sequence of things and playing it from Kenney’s point of view. It simultaneously shows us some uglier moments while glossing over them, and ultimately gives us a character who was, yes, problematic, but also played a huge role in changing up the comedy scene. AFASG doesn’t exactly play its situations straight and there is an overwhelming sense of sympathy for Kenney- specifically for his childhood, his never-ending quest for acceptance, and fear of failure. Narrator Kenney takes on a reflective tone, allowing him to have a redemptive arc and clear the air of his wrongdoings.
This may have not been the best or most accurate approach to take- it comes off more as wishful, whimsical thinking of how Kenney might have reflected on his actions. However, it does make sense as it comes from a mix of admirers and friends… I feel like I need to do some more research on the subjects, but it does feel there is a refusal to get into the uglier side of things. The emotional pulls feel half-baked. Before we can ever question his actions and their consequences, we’re whisked away to another zany moment in an effort to distract us from any actual darkness.
Buuuuuut maybe that’s because I don’t feel attached to the source material- that’s not to say I didn’t like the movie. It’s not easy to balance those kinds of sentiments with the National Lampoon outrageousness, especially with such a complex figure. And the overall message of the movie is that Kenney sought to find humor in everything, to make us laugh the loudest we could, to remind us that life’s seriousness is a parody unto itself. This attitude is felt in every scene of the movie and I laughed quite a bit.
While National Lampoon’s humor might not sit well with everyone, AFASG is a treasure trove of comedy nods in the vein of the brand. Will Forte, who I’ve always found to be underrated on SNL, is really good in this. He has a natural unflappable commitment to both dryness and obliviousness, which works in both tones of the AFASG. Domhnall Gleeson* is fast becoming a favorite of mine- the dude is just in everything and Bill Weasley has quite a bit of range. (His name is pronounced doe-hall? WHAT!?) The cast’s chemistry and the obvious fun the production is having was the most enjoyable part of AFASG, even if they don’t look like their real-life counterparts or don’t belong to any specific set of comedy troupes. There are a lot of familiar faces (Joel McHale, Natasha Lyonne, David Krumholtz, Matt Lucas, Seth Green, Brad Morris, Schmidt from The New Girl, and some SNL player) that show up to pay homage to Kenney, which is a nice nod acknowledging his impact across the board.
It’s all very appropriate for the homage they are looking to pay. If anything, I really enjoyed the nods and dedication they put into the film. It’s- wait for it– an extremely touching gesture.
BOOM. GET IT?
*I only use asterisks to drop facts about Roose Bolton. No, he’s not in this. But Gleeson supposedly has a project with Roose Bolton in the works– yes, I’m excited. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. Yes, I will watch.