A Futile and Stupid Gesture, which hits Netflix Jan. 26, should become required viewing for anyone who calls themselves a comedy lover. Whether you take sketch comedy very seriously or you just choose to blow off plans and watch SNL every week, you'll find something to enjoy with this movie, which chronicles the life of Doug Kenney, founder of National Lampoon the magazine. But just how accurate is A Futile and Stupid Gesture?
The new Netflix movie is based on a book of the same name, which journalist Josh Karp published in 2006. According to the New York Times' review of the biography, Karp referred to over 100 interviews while writing the book, so the Netflix movie's source material is undoubtedly loaded with true-life stories about Kenney's journey to becoming a comedy legend during the 1970s. Not only did Kenney create a national version of Harvard's humor publication, the Harvard Lampoon, but he also co-wrote the comedy staples Animal House and Caddyshack.
There's just one inaccuracy in the Netflix biopic, and it's a pretty big one. The new movie portrays Doug Kenney (played by Martin Mull) in the present day as a narrator looking back on his life, but in reality, Kenney tragically passed away in 1980 after falling off a cliff in Hawaii.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the movie's director, David Wain, explained that Mull's character "tell[s] the story in as creative and outside-the-box way for today as Doug Kenney did what he did then." That's an admirable way to tell a person's story, if certainly a controversial one.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture includes a ragtag cast of characters, many of whom might be familiar names to comedy fans. Joel McHale portrays Chevy Chase, Jackie Tohn plays Gilda Radner, Jon Daly plays Bill Murray, and John Gemberling appears as John Belushi. As you probably know, Chase, Belushi, and Murray all starred in the movies that Kenney co-wrote, and Radner starred on Saturday Night Live throughout the 1970s. The fact that these real-life comedy legends were all important figures in Kenney's life is a testament to how integral the writer was to the decade's comedy realm.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture doesn't solely portray Kenney's flourishing comedy career, though. Emmy Rossum plays actor Kathryn Walker, Kenney's girlfriend. According to a 1981 article originally published in Esquire then re-published in the Daily Beast, Kenney's frequent drug use, especially his cocaine usage, created a rift in his and Walker's relationship. Their complicated romance is depicted on-screen.
As such, A Futile and Stupid Gesture not only highlights the exciting time in Kenney's life when National Lampoon was earning its spot as a cutting-edge petri-dish for big-name comedy writers, but it shows the darker side of the time with Kenney's drug usage and and strained relationship. Even though the movies that the comedian is best known for have withstood the test of time, according to The Daily Beast, the pressure to out-do himself proved a great burden for Kenney. "After the film opened to withering reviews, his despair was complete. 'They're going to hate me now,' [Kenney] told a friend," Robert Sam Ansonfrom, who knew Kenney personally, wrote.
You might think that including an imagination of Kenney as he would be now, with Mull's character, takes away from A Futile And Stupid Gesture's accuracy, but in a way it holds true to the way that Kenney's mind works in presenting a funny, creative way of telling a story. In the end, regardless of the trials of Doug Kenney's life, the new Netflix movie focuses on the comedic genius's legacy, which happens to include a lot of raunchiness.