Tuesday’s Reviews – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

films, fucking funny, mockumentary, parody, review

I don’t quite trust people who don’t like The Lonely Island, the comedy music trio formed by Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone. Yes, it’s completely childish and base humour but that doesn’t stop it being funny. I’ve come up against a few people over the years who dismiss the trio as unfunny but I know at least one of those people voted to leave the EU this week so, clearly, their opinions aren’t worth listening to. I’ve permanently got their music on my everyday Spotify playlist and at 630 am there is nothing quite like listening to ‘I’m on a Boat’ to get you ready for a shift. So, suffice it to say, when I heard the trio were starring in a new music mockumentary then I was excited. Particularly in this new and awful world where the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One Direction were all getting their time on the big screen. It’s about time someone came along and showed us all how absurd this all is. It’s probably also the first time I’ve ever been this keen to see a film produced by Judd Apatow.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is essentially a copy of Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never but with actual jokes. The film, written by the Lonely Island trio, sees Andy Samberg play the Bieber-esque figure Connor4Real who, after a runaway success of a first album, is awaiting the release of his follow-up. Connor is trying to make a name for himself as a solo act following his departure from boyband The Style Boyz. The other Style Boyz have faired less well than Connor, of course. The guy who wrote the musis, Owen (played by fellow Lonely Island Member Jorma Taccone) is using his talents as Connor’s DJ, which mainly consists of pressing play on a iPod. The band’s lyricist, Lawrence (played by last Lonely Islander Akiva Schaffer) is living a lonely existence as a farmer after falling out with Connor over the rights to an award-winning verse. Although, it soon becomes clear that life after The Style Boyz is going to be more difficult than Connor though as his second album fails to live up to its predecessor.

Connor’s path is laid out pretty obviously in front of the audience and the final act won’t cause any real surprises. Although, the lack of originality doesn’t make it any less entertaining and the final act will give the emotional pay-off that the film needs. Popstar isn’t a film that wanted to break any boundaries and it never claimed to be the next This Is Spinal Tap. It’s unfortunate that the film will constantly be compared to this pinnacle of the genre because Popstar is actually a pretty good mockumentary. It doesn’t just try exaggerate the modern day obsession with pop stars but parodies this world really well. Connor’s songs are as outlandish as any Lonely Island song but with the added benefit of sound like the kind of music youths are blasting out of their phones these days.

The best, and possibly worst, thing about the film is that Connor4Real is exactly the kind of personality that could make it big in today’s world. He has the massive ego and lack of self-awareness that the likes of Justin Bieber have made such a common feature of the pop scene. This film is about more than just taking cheap shots at celebrities but has some entertaining satire about the entertainment industry. It’s very easy to mock the vapid stars of today but, thankfully, The Lonely Island find a more intelligent way to go about things. It takes on the topics of branding modern pop stars and the importance of social media in ensuring a musicians value. There is more to this film than just “isn’t Bieber a fucking idiot”.

Although, is it impossible to ignore the sense that The Lonely Island aren’t comfortable with the elongated format. Their short music videos are filled with great writing, music and visual gags but this film often revisits jokes to stretch the narrative out a bit. You often get the feeling that this film is nothing more than a few of their new songs stuck together using a flimsy but inconsequential plot. A plot that is nothing more than a few episodic situations that get characters to where they need to be in the strangest or funniest way possible. It’s basically a few funny sketches with a few funny songs and some extra words in between. This doesn’t mean it’s not funny but it also means it’s nothing to write home about.

What saves the film from total failure is the cast and the sheer number of celeb cameos that litter the run time. Now, obviously the three main stars have a tried and tested chemistry but they probably would have benefited from better written characters. As it is, they often get overlooked by the secondary figures, most obviously Conner’s rival rapper Hunter (Chris Redd) and his manager (Tim Meadows) and publicist (Sarah Silverman). Then we have the obligatory appearances from Samberg’s fellow SNL-alumni, inlcuding Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Will Forte. In order to keep up the appearance of a documentary there are the occasional breakaways for talking heads from a host of famous faces, like Simon Cowell, Maria Carey and DJ Khaled. Whilst there are some funny moments from these many cameos, it was clearly a quantity over quality kind of deal.

Still, there is something about Popstar that just works. It’s not the greatest nor is it the funniest example of this kind of film but it is harmlessly silly. It has the same feel that The Lonely Island back catalogue has. It’ll make you laugh even if you think you’re better than that kind of humour. It is a pretty shrewd parody of modern pop stars and, you can’t deny, it could easily have been a much more tragic affair had The Lonely Island not been in charge. Yes, Popstar can’t quite elevate itself to the heights of Spinal Tap but it will give enough laughs to keep anyone with even a vague knowledge of current music entertained enough. And sometimes that should be enough.

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