After a summer of disappointing box office showings, it has become trendy to prophesize the end of the R-rated comedy. But while the era of The Hangover style summer blockbusters may have come to an end, Netflix is banking on a new type of mature comedy that’s more focused on letting it’s dialogue be the star rather than showcasing outrageous antics and characters. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is one of these movies: hilarious, thoughtful, but still uncouth
The movie focuses on Doug Kenny (Will Forte) and his writing partner Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) as they start The National Lampoon, the magazine that would shape an entire era of comedy. The plot goes on to follow Kenny as he becomes the enigmatic and unstable leader of a group of equally unstable and hilarious writers, and then makes Animal House, the most successful comedy movie the world had ever seen. With an army of talent (Tom Lennon, Joel McHale, and Emmy Rossum to name a very, very few), it would be almost impossible to make an unfunny movie. But Forte’s performance is what makes the movie what it is; he embodies Doug Kenny while still adding in that Will Forte charm.
When someone who wasn’t around in the 70’s watches A Futile and Stupid Gesture, their first instinct is probably going to be irritation. Here are a bunch of Harvard educated white guys who are having such a hard time dealing with all their success, their wealth, and the queues of women who want to sleep with them. But once you get past the funny-but-irksome first third, the movie shows that it’s very aware of its problematic nature. Unlike the movie that shaped Kenny’s success, A Futile and Stupid Gesture knows exactly what is wrong with the lampoon’s white-boy-exclusive-counter-culture thesis. It showcases moments of betrayal, rejection, insecurity, and emptiness that surely permeated the life of a man who never had the love of his family and strove to fill the void with comedy.
If you don’t know the story of Doug Kenny, don’t look it up. In fact, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is at it’s strongest when you go in blind. The movie pulls the rug out from under you, forcing you to really emphasize with someone who previously kindled anything but pity. While the first half sets up a fun romp through the long-gone world of cocaine, comedy, and overt bigotry, the second half delivers a stirring climax that wouldn’t have been possible in a R-rated comedy when Doug Kenny was at his prime. In short, A Futile and Stupid Gesture should be moved to the very front of your Netflix cue so you can enjoy it in all its crude glory before your roommate spoils it.