Netflix’s biopic about the creation of National Lampoon is an awkward and unusual treatment of the source material. While comedy may be spread throughout the life of co-creator Doug Kenney, the serious moments are severely under appreciated by the weak humor forced in around the truly dramatic moments.
Directed by David Wain, known best for his directing efforts with the Wet Hot American Summer series, the comedy should be the one element that functions properly enough in this comedic biopic. However, this isn’t the case for A Futile and Stupid Gesture. There’s a couple of reasons why the comedy may not land, but the one that is in plain sight is how the film is captured. The film feels awkwardly made with a sense of urgency during the filming process. It almost feels like David Wain recreated the feel of the Wet Hot American Summer series and forgot to include the slapstick or reason for the insanity going on in that series. The film feels like a forced inclusion in the history of National Lampoon, especially when there’s a brilliant documentary that already exists, titled Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of National Lampoon which tells the same exact story, but without the cheesy misfires.
The film follows the life of National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney and everyone of importance he’s ever worked with even for a brief second, starting from his time at Harvard. The story dives deep into the unique and always-right attitude of Kenney, as his buddy and himself decide to start a national magazine based around their college newspaper. After a few unfortunate first issues, the magazine picked up business and created an entire company that would move into radio, live shows, and eventually films. If you’re ill informed about the start, success, and (to some) end of National Lampoon, then this movie is worth acknowledging just for educational purposes. However, the failed attempts at comedy in the finished script makes the movie feel oddly paced and makes it seem more like a parody of the life of the legendary creator. The only redeemable notion presented in this lackluster biopic is the final act that focuses on the filmmaking aspect of National Lampoon and the descent of the company thereafter.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Will Forte gives an average performance here, and honestly I wasn’t falling for his character’s antics like I was meant to. The actors representing the famous counterparts of National Lampoon seem desperate and lazily cast. Joel McHale is a prime example of this, as being cast as Chevy Chase was an odd choice and seemed like a joke on him for his Community days more than anything. Domhnall Gleeson is the only real star performance coming through in this “comedy.” I believed his performance, I could tell he was giving the script his full attention, and I truly wanted more of him than what we got...but that’s what history dictated.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Generic beyond belief, the score had me rolling my eyes several times. The characters audio made a few of them sound almost identical to who they were portraying, which was well completed. Yet for the majority of this Netflix Original, the music feels overly persuasive and unsatisfactory. Comedies have had some brilliantly composed scores throughout time, and it’s upsetting to see yet another failure in regards to giving a comedy the perfect amount of push to be something more than what’s written in the script.
Will Forte and Domhnall Gleeson are made up pretty close to their real life counterparts and that’s a big thumbs up from me. The unrealistic casting choices of some actors still came through almost entirely in the makeup department. From Harold Ramis to John Belushi, the makeup department truly seemed to give their all to this film when it came to the design of the famous actors. Not Oscar winning material, but it does look like they gave an enormous effort, unlike some of the other people involved in the picture.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a lazy biopic. It’s a glimpse into what a National Lampoon biopic could have been if helmed by someone with more passion toward the project. The acting doesn’t give the film hardly any favors, and the score plummets the film down an entire notch. The only saving factors are the fine tuned last act and the occasional good performance, mainly from Gleeson. I’ve already said it once, but it’s worth saying again, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is only worth a one time watch if you have an interest in the history of National Lampoon’s creator, and don’t want to watch an Oscar caliber documentary from a few years back