A Futile and Stupid Gesture

It makes sense for David Wain to direct a biopic about Doug Kenney.  The absurdist director of Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, and Wanderlust works with a special brand of off-beat comedy as Kenney’s National Lampoon brainchild did.  Even though the biopic genre is new ground for Wain, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is still a comedy cut from familiar cloth.

Such is the case for most of the film’s actors.  Sporting an all-star comedic cast, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a revolving door of familiar faces who all know how to make the audience laugh.  The slight challenge for these performers is trying to find their footing in a film that also has to hold truth.  The supporting actors do a commendable job of holding their own, even though costuming and make-up may be giving them an extra boost in their likeness.  Most of this weight falls on Will Forte, who portrays Doug Kenney.  Forte, who is usually asked to play towards his strengths as a character actor, steps outside his comfort zone to respectfully portray a controversial satirist who struggled with his own conflicted narcissism.  It’s a solid breakout for the SNL alum, who also proves himself as an engaging leading man, despite the role being a derivative depiction of a needy man craving approval and attention.

The detrimental problem is the exact same one audiences may have experienced while watching Netflix’s other recent biopic The Polka King.  For a biopic that is supposed to cover a lot of substantial content, it’s in a mighty hurry to finish.  For instance, A Futile and Stupid Gesture has been partially sold as an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Doug Kenney’s foray into film, but Wain’s movie glosses over these interesting moments in Kenney’s career.  We see Kenney butting heads on the set of Animal House, but an on-set food fight and a few quick edits abruptly buries the hatchet.  Details are especially spotty on the set of Caddyshack, a film that was apparently fuelled by cocaine benders and wacky chaos but, again, the film treats this as a minor detail.  A real let down is the rushed relationship between Doug Kenney and Chevy Chase (Joel McHale in a hilariously meta role).  It appears they had an oddball connection over their love of drugs and slapstick, but Chase’s concern when Kenney bottoms out suggests a deeper friendship.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture has a few decent laughs and some brilliant impressions, but it’s surprisingly hollow.


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