Recently I’ve come down with a bit of a fever. I’ve felt it ever since I saw this Netflix original film last week. It’s main cause is Domhnall Gleeson’s face and the main symptom is being obsessed with Domhnall Gleeson’s face. I’ve been something of a fan of his since I first saw him play Bill Weasley in Harry Potter: although, admittedly I wasn’t as much of a fan of his dodgy accent. It wasn’t a love that prompted me to watch all of his films but it was enough to get me super excited when he was cast in the two new Star Wars films. I had a slight appreciation of his face but it wasn’t enough to make me rush to watch a fucking Richard Curtis film. Then I watched this bipoic of Doug Kenney, the man who helped launch the magazine National Lampoon. I spent a lot of my time looking at the guy playing Kenney’s friend and thinking, “hmm what an interesting face. I wonder who it is.” Cue credits and an obsessive admiration for this adorable ginger Irish man was born. I’ve got it bad, guys. I even stopped so low as to watch that fucking Richard Curtis film. I don’t know what’s happened to me. If only Will Forte hadn’t made it so impossible to ignore A Futile and Stupid Gesture.
After all, it wasn’t the kind of film that was going to be top of my watch list. I know very little about the history of National Lampoon. I really only know a select number of the films that were released. I’ve never seen Caddyshack and, if I’m painfully honest, don’t actually think Animal House is as funny as we’re meant to believe. I first watched it at an age when I was kind of obsessed with Blues Brothers and John Belushi. It didn’t exactly live up to my expectations so I’ve never been back. It’s not that I didn’t think it was funny but there is so much hype around that film that I expected it to be flawless. So, really, the biopic of one of the co-founders of the magazine that started it all didn’t really seem like something I’d give a shit about.
But, Netflix is clever. Every time that trailer autoplayed I got closer and closer to finally watching it. I love Will Forte. He’s a funny guy and, really, I’m still not over his performance in Nebraska way back in 2013 (Jesus, was that really 2013? I feel so old!). So, it came to a point when I was desperate to watch something for today’s review and my two main options seemed to be this or Game Over Man. It was a pretty easy choice to make. And, considering the outcome, it’s probably a good thing. Imagine what my life would be like now if I was obsessively lusting after Adam deVine. I’m sure there are people out there who do but, let’s be honest, he’s not the preferred choice.
But, she says desperately trying to get away from Domhnall Gleeson’s face and claw her way back to some sort of credibility, was the film actually any good? It’s hard to say. There was a lot that I liked about it but it suffers the same let down that haunts most of the Netflix films I’ve watched over the years. There was a great deal of potential and I appreciated the way the film tackled it’s purpose. It’s dealing with history but it is a very recent period in pop culture. It features a whole host of familiar faces and big names in comedy… many of whom play familiar faces and big names in comedy. It has the good sense to be totally upfront about its inadequacies in terms of the people portraying characters like Bill Murray and John Belushi and has its tongue firmly in its cheek throughout.
Really, the film tries to turn the story of Doug Kenney into a National Lampoon film. It’s silly, over-the-top, and all about having fun. Unfortunately, it gets a bit lost along the way. And that’s despite the fact that it made the questionable decision to have Martin Null narrate the story in the guise of the older Kenney. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously… well, until it starts to take itself way too seriously. Because, for all of its nonchalance and irreverence for its subject matter, A Futile and Stupid Gesture does try to make an important point about Kenney’s life and legacy. The problem is, it doesn’t go far enough. And when it tries, it’s something that doesn’t quite meld with the rest of the story. The moments where he goes wild with Chevy Chase (brilliantly portrayed by his Community co-star Joel McHale) jar against the times when we try to explore the darker side of Doug’s soul.
The film shoots itself in the foot by trying to stick to his legacy because, in treating Kenney’s life as if it were a skit, it ensures that it never feels as important a message as it should. There can be no denying that Kenney and co. changed the landscape of comedy but this film doesn’t allow that message to land as it should. It’s too easy to get lost in all of the other nonsense. There are too many characters; too many pit stops. I can’t help but think that if it had taken itself a little more seriously it would have been easier to highlight the historical importance. Although, perhaps that wouldn’t have been a fitting legacy for a man so eager to just have fun?