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By Megan Bianco
To many who grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s, National Lampoon was a big turning point in pop culture for those transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The modest risqué, crude humor magazine quickly found a cult following in 1973, and then eventually began producing their own popular raunchy comedies like Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Vacation (1983). This past week, Netflix released the biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture on Lampoon founding member Doug Kenney’s brief life before dying at age 33 in 1980.
Comedy filmmaker David Wain, who has his own cult fanbase, with a definite love-it-or-hate-it type of humor, might appear to be a good match for the Lampoon backstory. But it quickly becomes prominent that the film is a missed opportunity elsewhere. With Wain’s efforts, we get a very ironic, tongue-in-cheek account through narration provided by 73-year-old Martin Mull as an “old” Kenney; and 45-year-old Will Forte portraying Kenney from his college years up to his death. Domhnall Gleeson plays Kenney’s creative partner, Henry Beard; Emmy Rossum appears as Kenney’s girlfriend, Kathryn Walker; and Joel McHale plays Chevy Chase.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture shows the quick rise to stardom of the eccentric man and his magazine and its influence, particularly on Saturday Night Live. But the pacing is almost too quick and gimmicky to be fully appreciated, with the casting and meta tone all over the place. Longtime fans of Lampoon might want to stick with the original book with the same title by Josh Karp.