MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead’ Is Funny & Important

Film: Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story Of National Lampoon
Starring: Henry Beard, Chevy Chase
Directed by: Douglas Tirola

In a world of remakes, reboots, and prequels the idea of tracing the roots of something funny all the way back to their point of origin can be risky business. People like what they like, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily care where the things they like come from, and if they do they probably understand they may be better off not knowing. So much great comedy is the result of pain and the attempt to deal with it, which is why the source of humor is not always the best topic to explore, but in the case of Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead it’s a necessary discussion that produces incredibly entertaining results.

Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead tells the story of National Lampoon, the once prominent satirical magazine that grew into a multimedia juggernaut and launched the careers of everyone from Harold Ramis, to Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and, of course, John Belushi. Before any of them were involved, though, there was the magazine and the brilliant young minds who worked tirelessly to bring each issue to life. At the top of the ranks were founders Henry Beard, Doug Kenney and Robert Hoffman–three men whose contributions to modern comedy influenced an entire generation of writers and performers. They each had their flaws–Doug most of all–but when their brains were allowed to run free the material they could develop was second to none. Their views on life and insight into the mind of a young person in the 1970s grabbed the attention of people from all walks of life, and Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead tells how it all came together.

I think it’s safe to assume most people would expect a film about National Lampoon to dedicate a large amount of runtime to the now iconic films the brand delivered, including Animal House, Caddyshack, and the Vacation franchise, but truth be told those stories only make up roughly 30 minutes of the total story. The vast majority of Drunk, Stoned Brilliant, Dead focuses on the madness that was the magazine, and the amazing minds that passed through the offices while the publication was in its prime. National Lampoon was not a gathering of outcasts looking to tear down those they saw in power, but rather comic geniuses having the time of their lives and loving every minute of it. Drugs and partying were rampant, as was controversy, and it remained that way for years, if not decades before change was more or less forced by the unexpected passing of Doug Kenney.

The stories told in Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead are the stuff publishing legends are made of. They are the tales no professional is supposed to share, the dirty secrets that make the sometimes soul-crushing work of striking sentences together worth the headaches and self-doubt such work can bring. The team at National Lampoon lived life to the fullest, and as a result they were able to usher in a new generation of comedy that is still making an impact on pop culture at large to this day. The work required to cause that kind of widespread change cannot be overstated, and in Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead it’s celebrated in a way that is both fitting and well-deserved.


James Shotwell
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