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A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018)

TV-MA | | Biography, Comedy | 26 January 2018 (USA)
In the 1970s and '80s, National Lampoon's success and influence creates a new media empire overseen in part by the brilliant and troubled Douglas Kenney.


David Wain
1,623 ( 251)
2 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Frank Gingerich ... Doug - Age 12
Morgan Gingerich ... Doug - Age 12
Annette O'Toole ... Stephanie Kenney
Harry Groener ... Harry Kenney
Martin Mull ... Modern Doug
David Wain ... Interviewer
Domhnall Gleeson ... Henry Beard
Will Forte ... Douglas Kenney
Ben F. Campbell ... Harvard Jester (as Ben Campbell)
Jon Klaft ... Preppy Student
Camille Guaty ... Alex Garcia-Mata
Brad Morris ... Peter Ivers
Carla Gallo ... Lucy Fisher
Beau Bassewitz ... Umpire
Rick Overton ... First Publisher


An old version of humorist Douglas Kenney tells the story of how he and Henry Beard parleyed their success in their campus magazine, Harvard Lampoon, into the commercial magazine, National Lampoon. Drawing upon their checkered lives and an aggressively puckish sense of humor, the pair created a publication that would redefine American comedy with outrageous drollery that grabbed the zeitgeist of the decade that expanded across various media. Unfortunately, for all his success, Doug Kenney with his overhanging insecurities, ego and irresponsible appetites began to consume him until he alienates everyone who ever cared and supported him even as they imitated him. In the end, this iconoclastic funnyman would come to a tragedy that comes when your comedy doesn't have enough distance. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Being the King of Comedy is No Joke. See more »


Biography | Comedy


TV-MA | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

26 January 2018 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Eine nutzlose und dumme Geste See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »


Box Office


$30,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.90 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When Doug and PJ are researching old high school yearbooks Doug spots one picture where the name is "Lawrence 'Larry' Kroger" which is the real name of 'Pinto' in 'Animal House'. See more »


The man pushing the rotary lawn mower in the opening scene is pushing the mower backwards. See more »


Kathryn Walker: [after seeing Airplane!] Surely you're not upset because someone else made a funny movie.
Douglas Kenney: Don't you get it? That's the movie that everyone's gonna love, not fucking Caddyshack. I've been replaced. What the fuck am I gonna do now?
Kathryn Walker: You're supposed to say, "Don't call me Shirley."
See more »

Crazy Credits

After the end credits have rolled, Martin Mull is shown singing the song "Time of My Life" with members of the cast. See more »


References Twisted Sister: We're Not Gonna Take It (1984) See more »


I'm a Woman
Written by Sean Kelly and Paul Jacobs
Performed by Jackie Tohn
See more »

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User Reviews

A Very Good Mocumentary
11 March 2018 | by Eric266See all my reviews

POILER: I really enjoyed this film. I have watched several of the documentaries concerning Animal House and Caddyshack and Doug Kenney's name comes up quite often amongst the cast and crew. Chevy Chase and he were really close and Chevy still feels some guilt over leaving Hawaii right before Kenney's death. The man was apparently a comic genius who couldn't escape his childhood baggage.

The format is well played with Will Forte as the young Doug and Martin Mull as kind of older, alternate universe Doug, if Kenney had lived, narrating the film. The rest of the cast is well known, playing unknown actors and writers. It took me a second to recognize Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) as Anne Beatts, Thomas Lennon (Reno 911) as Micheal O'Donoghue, and Joel McHale (Community) as Chevy Chase. All of them are covered in 70s hairstyles and McHale does a really good job of mimicking Chase's speech patterns and even his trademark pratfalls.

The film excels in showing how Kenney rose from a malcontent to a Harvard grad to a fledgling magazine editor to movie writer. Forte is especially compelling and funny as Kenney. He doesn't quite have the acting range to pull off the downward spiral of the person, but he does an excellent job with the jokes and the other aspects of Kenney's life. Where the film fails is trying to shoehorn too many characters into its 100 minute run time. There is even a humorous scene of older Kenney (Mull) explaining to a bunch of supporting characters that there wasn't enough screen time for all of them so they get ignored. But the film goes to great pains to cram in other famous people such as Gilda Radner, Christopher Guess (Seth Green), Bill Murray, and John Belushi. The actors playing Murray and Belushi came off as actors lampooning (no pun intended) the famous comedians. Belushi was such a huge personality, I doubt anyone could portray him properly in such a short cameo.

Another special mention goes out to Emmy Rossum. She is a stunning screen presence and even though her appearance is short, as Kenney's last girlfriend, she lights up the screen. She is a gorgeous actress as well.

There is also a fun nod to Animal House with Mark Metcalf (Neidermeyer) portraying a publisher.

The movie moves fast through the various periods of Kenney's life, but I think he would have enjoyed it. He comes off as funny, yet troubled, a brilliant comedian, but an emotionally stinted adult. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is anything but. The only thing I would have added, is maybe some post interviews with the actual people portrayed in the movie who knew Kenney, even if they were archival for some (Belushi and Ramis). Still, this was a well-done film.

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