The narrator is Martin Mull who always struck me as rather dull and flat. But I didn't recognize him at first and his opening to this film improved my poor attitude. He's discussing how to open the film. The opening sequence is a boy in the back seat of a 1950s automobile being driven to a graveyard. We learn later it's the funeral of his older brother and this element has an Ordinary People vibe to it. His parents were devastated, obviously, and Kenney cannot live up to their hopes for his brother.
Martin Mull cast as the older Kenney asks somebody off camera, "Is this really how we want to start this film?" The unseen person asks him how should it be started then. Mull answers, "Let's start at Harvard because that's where the fun begins."
They depict life in the party castle where Kenney meets his fellow writer and eventual business partner and where he also met his wife. Then after graduation Kenney convinces his pal from Harvard to abandon his idea of studying law to continue with Harvard Lampoon as National Lampoon. They show the frustration of publishers rejecting them with the line, "We don't want to waste any more of your time." Until there is only one publisher left. They b.s. him into accepting the idea through flattery and by lying to him.
They show all the key elements, the famous issues, the law suits, the books that were written, a radio show, the stress of overworking themslves and the films Animal House and Caddy Shack.
The film is interesting to me because I knew nothing of any of this. I was alive then, I lived through this period, and I heard of National Lampoon but I hadn't read a single issue. I was w-a-a-a-a-a-y too serious back then for any of this. I was aware of the cover of holding a pistol to a dog's head with the dog's expression of worry and questioning expressed beautifully with the caption, "Buy this magazine or the dog gets it." But I had no idea what the contents inside were like. I didn't see the issue about High School Yearbooks, nor understand that was based on a failed manuscript Teenage Commies From Outer Space.
Kenney is portrayed by Will Forte, another comedian I haven't heard of. Videos of him on YouTube are not interesting. He wears a deplorable wig throughout. Will Forte is about the age of Kenney when he died. I imagine a bit older. And Martin Mull is twice the age of Kenney when he died. So the ages of both comedian/actors do not make sense. But that's okay. I accept things not making sense.
Kenney dies too quickly. The abruptness is purposeful because he really did die too quickly. Drugs. It's hard to have sympathy when successful people die by the effects of outrageous drugs. Learning that Caddy Shack was written under the influence of cocaine is a bit of a bummer and now my opinion of a favorite movie is affected by knowing that.
I had no idea the creators of National Lampoon had such wild success. I did not know the effort made the creators millionaires. Douglas Kenney died at age thirty-four and that really is a bummer.
I learned Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner were involved with National Lampoon. The actors look similar and behave similarly but there is no attempt to copy them exactly. All the supporting actors do very nicely.
After Caddy Shack there is a funeral scene.
It took me awhile to realize this is the end, that Kenney had died. Because he's standing right there at the coffin. He's observing his own funeral. And Martin Mull appears and talks to Will Forte, Both Kenneys observing their own funeral. I had a moment. It brought me down. Way down. Way way down. My mind wandered away from the film. I thought about things developing unrelated to the film, but related to the subject being depicted. Things that are inevitable and on ineluctable course with one end, and I got so down my jaws jacked tightly. Then the film snapped me right back up and out of it.
The meaning of the title is resolved at the very end. It is the best ending for a film that I've seen in a very long time.
In real life Douglas Kenney fell off a cliff. Wikipedia entry for Douglass Kenney follows the script of the movie quite well. Wikipedia says Harold Ramos famously quipped that Kenney "probably fell while he was looking for a place to jump."
That's my kind of humor.
Man, did I ever miss a lot back then by being so impossibly serious.
There. If you watched this trailer you basically saw the whole thing right there.