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Film / A Futile and Stupid Gesture

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These last few days are among the happiest I've ever ignored.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a 2018 Netflix original biographical comedy/drama based on Josh Karp's book A Futile and Stupid Gesture: How Doug Kenney and National Lampoon Changed Comedy Forever.

The movie stars Will Forte as Doug Kenney, one of the co-founders of National Lampoon, and follows him from the end of college through all his entertainment endeavors until his eventual death in 1980. Taking a look behind Kenney's productions such as Animal House and Caddyshack, the film also features Domhnall Gleeson as Kenney's lifelong friend and fellow National Lampoon co-founder Henry Beard, and features supporting roles from Joel McHale, John Gemberling, and Rick Glassman as Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Harold Ramis, respectively, among other influential comedic figures throughout Kenney's life. The film was directed by David Wain and features a number of supporting performances from his fellow The State alumni.


A Futile and Stupid Gesture features examples of the following tropes:

  • A Minor Kidroduction: The movie's opening scene takes place in 1958 with Doug and his parents attending his older brother's funeral.
  • Actor Allusion: Joel McHale plays Chevy Chase, his co-star from Community.
  • Arc Symbol: Kenney's tennis racket becomes one of these. Tennis in general, really, as Kenney's downward spiral was heavily drug-induced, and their cocaine was transported inside tennis balls.
  • Artistic License – History: Frequently acknowledged. At one point during the movie, a bunch of things from real life that were left out of the movie scroll over the screen.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Doug has died prematurely, but his parents finally appreciate what he'd done with his life, and all of Doug's friends have a food fight in his honor.
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  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Martin Mull plays an older Doug Kenney and directly talks to the audience when describing events that happened throughout his life. After Kenney's death, Will Forte's younger version of the character can talk to Mull's, the latter revealing that he's simply an idealized depiction of Kenney had he not died so premature.
  • Buxom Is Better: Kenney and Beard nickname their secretary "Mary Marshmallow." Kenney begins sleeping with her soon after.
  • Condescending Compassion: Lorne Michaels offers Doug a writing job on Saturday Night Live, a show featuring actors that he hired away from National Lampoon's very successful radio show.
  • Creator Backlash: In-universe. Doug begins to resent Caddyshack after Airplane! becomes a hit in 1980. Its mixed reception upon release only makes things worse.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ultimately how Doug Kenney's death ends up portrayed as, though in real life this is questionable.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: see under Artistic License – History, above.
  • Heroic BSoD: Kenney goes through one when the pressures of running National Lampoon begin to pile up. He ends up taking an extended leave on absence, piling all his responsibilities on top of Henry's.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Doug Kenney and Henry Beard. When Beard goes on to live a full life on his own, Kenney doesn't last very long without him.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Doug and Henry exchange several Tolkien-related puns at a party for the release of Bored of the Rings.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Narrator Doug tells us several times that his first wife is beautiful and out of his league.
  • Mythology Gag: Mark Metcalf plays a character who quotes the best known line of his character from Animal House.
  • Poke the Poodle: After watching Doug tear up Matty Simmons's office, Henry knocks a single plaque off the wall.
  • Running Gag: Doug always introduces himself as "Doug Kenney, Chagrin Falls, Ohio." in his very last scene, he's asked where he comes from, and he says "Chagrin Falls, Ohio" with a confused expression, as if he didn't realize that he'd stopped making the joke.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Kenney becomes one after starting National Lampoon. When his wife finds out, she leaves.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Kenney is portrayed as one of these.
  • Why Didn't I Think of That?: Doug feels that the National Lampoon staff should've been the ones to make a film like Airplane!, as the film's tone is very similar to the magazine.


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