Movie Review: ‘A Futile and Stupid Gesture’ revives forgotten comedian

The life of Douglas Kenney, co-founder of National Lampoon


“Caddyshack,” one of my favorite movies of all time. 


“A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is a 2018 movie based on the life of Douglas Kenney, one of the most important comedians of the past several decades.

Douglas Kenney was one of the co-founders of National Lampoon, an organization that has made some of the best comedic movies ever, such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

“A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is in the biopic genre that has become massively popular in the last couple of years with the success of movies such as “Rocketman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The movie is told in a very interesting format, it is told through Kenney’s eyes as an old man, even though he did not live to be an old man. While I think this movie is good overall, that creative choice is a little bit iffy to me personally.

The movie starts at Harvard University, where Kenney met his friend, and future business partner, Henry Beard.

Kenney and Beard are part of a club that creates comedy magazines, leading them to become fairly popular and successful on campus.

Beard gets into law school while Kenney does not even apply, much to the disdain of his parents. Kenney and Beard decide to become business partners to create a humor magazine (the continuation of the “Lampoon” that they brought popularity to during their time at Harvard).

The two pitch their magazine to several groups of executives that all end poorly until one executive decides to take a chance on the “Lampoon.”

This movie does a great job of telling the story in a fast, entertaining matter; “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” clocks in at right around an hour and a half.

I really appreciate the art of the hour-and-a-half movie, it challenges the director to tell a story in a fast and cohesive manner. Recently, I feel like movies are almost exclusively two and-a-half to three hours long, and it becomes an absolute slugfest to sit through.

From how the movie describes the magazine, the National Lampoon seemed to be a more adult-rated version of “Mad Magazine” which included some graphic and sexual themes in their comedic pieces.

The magazine did not start off very successful, but it eventually gained steam to become very popular.

After dealing with some burnout, Kenney left the magazine for almost a year, leaving Beard to run things. Kenney came back unannounced (after leaving in a similar way), to Beard listing the problems that the magazine has run into, such as employee departures and lawsuits.

Beard eventually left the National Lampoon after stressful interactions with their business manager and the lack of enjoyment that he had been experiencing.

This put Kenney in a pretty bad place, especially when a lot of former employees for the Lampoon got poached by Lorne Michaels to create the legendary TV show “Saturday Night Live” (an idea the movie seems to claim was largely Kenney’s idea).

Kenny goes on to create multiple massively successful movies: “Animal House,” as I mentioned earlier, and “Caddyshack,” one of my favorite movies of all time.

The movie ends on a sad note when Kenney gets addicted to cocaine. After thoughts that “Caddyshack” would be a flop, he goes to Hawaii, where he commits suicide.

While “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is not the most fun or happy movie ever, it does a great job of telling the story of one of the most influential comedians who happened to kind of slip under the radar of most people.