Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: R for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use
Running Time: 86 min.
Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Tim Meadows, Chris Redd, Sarah Silverman, Justin Timberlake, Imogen Poots, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Joan Cusack
Small role: Bill Hader, Martin Sheen, Pink, Will Forte, Joanna Newsom, Jimmy Fallon, Adam Levine, Paul Scheer, Mike Birbiglia, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Carrie Underwood, Seal, Simon Cowell, Usher Raymond, D.J. Khaled, ?uestlove, Ringo Starr, Nas, Akon, Michael Bolton
Director: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Screenplay: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Review published June 6, 2016
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a This is Spinal Tap-like mockumentary that ribs not only popstars like Justin Bieber and their gargantuan egos, but also the culture of modern celebrity in general. It's made by the mostly music-based comedy trio known as Lonely Island, which consists of Andy Samberg (Hotel Transylvania 2, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2), Jorma Taccone (The LEGO Movie) and Akiva Schaffer, and whose claim to fame came mostly for a series of hilarious SNL digital short films that would frequently go viral ("D**k in a Box", "Mother Lover"). Their shtick involved spoofing pop culture, and the music industry most often, writing completely absurd ditties in content, but with all of the production value and crossover appeal of real pop music in form.
Samberg stars as Conner, the most popular member of a Beastie Boys-esque hit rap trio known as the Style Boyz, know known under his stage name, Conner4Real. He retained the services of the other Style Boyz member, Owen (Taccone), who produced the music, as his current DJ (just for show -- he plays the music set from his old iPod), even though it's pretty much all for show these days, as ultra-narcissistic Conner has chosen to go with a whole slate of popular producers (over a 100!) for his sophomore solo album, "ConnQuest", which ends up being a critical disaster. This puts a damper on his upcoming world tour, which relies on Conner bringing in an up-and-comer for an opening act to help fill out half-empty arenas, the wildly erratic Hunter the Hungry (Redd), who ends up stealing the show most of the time. Meanwhile, the Style Boy, Lawrence (Schaffer), that wrote most of their lyrics without much credit and has bitterly chosen to leave the game altogether, chooses farm life in rural Colorado and avoiding the spotlight, unlike Conner, doesn't want to do anything unless it is watched by his millions of followers in social media.
Not only does Popstar send up the music industry as a whole, but the plot also serves as a spoof on films about music in general, covering the usual story of a musician who came from humble roots only to hit it big and lose touch of who he once was, eventually having to down a heaping helping of humility to find his way back to what once made him happy. Meanwhile, the film also sends up real life, as Samberg, like Conner, would go on to superstardom and celebrity, while the two main talents behind the beats and rhymes of Lonely Island, Jorma and Akiva, have been relegated mostly to the background of their projects as they've become successful.
At 86 minutes, it's both short as a movie, but long for one of their concept videos. As such, it doesn't quite play as well as a whole movie, but the sum of its parts is makes it certainly worthwhile as a collection of short concept videos wrapped around a central story through-line. The barrage of cameo appearances will likely keep viewers minds engaged (no surprise that Judd Apatow (Trainwreck) is a co-producer, given his penchant for equating celeb appearances as humor), as well as the bizarrely conceived, slapdash nature of the visual gags, while the persistent music interludes breath life into the film just when things look like they might be turning stale. Such songs as "Equal Rights", where Conner takes a stand to support gay marriage, not because it is heartfelt so much as it will draw media attention, while also insisting throughout that he's not gay, are hilarious concepts that skewer the fragility of the sexuality of the young straight male being afraid of helping out LGBT causes for fear they will be assumed as a member of that community.
They also flesh out Conner's character as a man without any sort of self-awareness of his own narcissism, and the film establishes his bubble only re-asserts this tendency, as he's surrounded by 'yes men' in his entoruage, and rubs elbows with other pop stars who suffer from the same egocentric tendencies, wanting to be popular more so than being good at what they do. Another standout song, "F--- Bin Laden", has Conner4Real bragging about how he powered through a particular sexual escapade and did what the U.S. government did to Osama. It's in the songs that Popstar finds its best footing in humor, mostly because those are among the few times in which the film encroaches into territory that deliberately goes for laughs. The send-ups of pop stars, celebrity-based TV shows, and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, while exaggerated, isn't really so easily distinguishable from outrageous events that have happened in real life to be great jokes in and of themselves.
As with the kindred-spirit celebrity-model satire, Zoolander, Popstar is often scattershot in its approach and can be quite raunchy in its delivery, such that it will likely have a limited audience of mostly younger viewers who are savvy enough with today's pop culture to understand all of the music industry and internet references, and don't mind the barrage of vulgar jokes that pepper the screenplay. Many of the jokes are obvious, but enough are clever and incisive to keep the film buoyant, even if this is a 'flavor burst' kind of a comedic film, where a new song or character gets introduced to keep the momentum from sagging from the inherent redundancy of jokes about characters that only have one or two facets to define their personalities. In many ways, it's like an album from a real pop star: mostly filler, but there are the handful of hits that justify the purchase.
©2016 Vince Leo