THEATRICAL REVIEW: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Written by: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Edited by: Jamie Gross, Stacey Schroeder, Zene Baker
Cinematography by: Brandon Trost
Music by: The Lonely Island, et al.
Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Chris Redd, James Buckley, Will Arnett, Eric André, Chelsea Peretti, Mike Birbiglia, Bill Hader
Ah, the lifestyles of the rich and famous. So glamorous. So scandalous. So ripe for parody. The hilariously titled Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a mockumentary that was bound to draw comparisons from the very beginning to another particular musical mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap. However, Popstar differentiates itself just enough by not only focusing on the musicians themselves, but by putting real life, self-important, money-siphoning documentaries like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and One Direction: This Is Us in its crosshairs, resulting in a film that is, of course, a bit more current and, thus, a lot more prone to poking fun at the marketing and technological synergy inherent to modern pop stars, as well as the generic, myopic, and self-important altruism so many modern celebrities seem to espouse. And, because it’s a Lonely Island production, it has more than a touch of their signature absurdities thrown in, too.
The film is centered on the titular popstar, Conner Friel, a.k.a. “Conner4Real,” who is about to release his second solo album after leaving his Beastie Boys-esque group The Style Boyz. Conner’s first album was a smash hit, but now the pressure is on for him to exceed those expectations, and so a documentary crew is, naturally, on hand to ensure this process is preserved for posterity. Conner is a spoiled brat with an inflated ego, which is exacerbated by his prodigious talent and the heaps of praise The Style Boyz continue to receive for their early work. Along the way, we learn just how big of an impact Conner’s work has had on the industry, with real celebrities popping up throughout to talk about how his work has influenced them, singing his praises. However, in spite of all this, Conner has more than his fair share of problems that are invading his cushy life: the looming threat of the album being seen as a sophomore slump, a still very raw and contentious relationship with his former Style Boyz bandmates, and the constant worry over the media turning on him and calling him irrelevant.
With today’s brand of celebrity obsession, there’s ample material for The Lonely Island guys to work with here, from elaborate and gimmicky on-stage props, eccentric pets, and, of course, holograms. A few more artist-specific jabs are thrown in, too, my favorite being the pro-gay rights white boy rap that really wants you to know that Conner supports gay rights but is not, himself, gay. If you’ve seen any of these guys’ shorts they produced for Saturday Night Live, you pretty much know what to expect from the film and the admittedly even more hilarious songs contained within. One of the songs, about a woman with a Bin Laden death fetish, actually made an appearance as an SNL Digital Short in the recent season finale, in fact, albeit heavily censored. The musical performances are definitely the highlight of Popstar, but the stuff between the songs is still plenty hilarious, including the deadpan celebrity cameos. The finale does nearly fall into almost too-sincere territory, that’s only because there’s no real animosity towards Conner and the real life characters he reflects, which is in its own way kind of nice, even if it’s likely driven by the fact that Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone are friends or at least acquaintances with some real life Conners.
It’s a real shame this movie’s doing so poorly at the box office. When I came out of the theatre (stay for the mid-credits scene for more spot-on TMZ satire), I mentioned to my friend that this was the Zoolander 2 follow-up fans are looking for. At least there’s a chance the film becomes the next Hot Rod, The Lonely Island’s last major cinematic release that also bombed but found a second life as a cult classic post-theatrical release. Popstar, at the very least, has also been comparatively well received by critics compared to the latter film, as well, so there’s that, too. This is likely due to the more accessible subject matter and humor as opposed to random goofiness (no tangents into making weird sounds and faces at one another), but that only means that Popstar should obviously appeal to a wider audience. It’s a smartly made and yet incredibly silly good time that will definitely endure upon repeated viewings.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5