'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping': Film Review

A sharp skewering of Bieber-like stardom.
6/3/2016

Andy Samberg plays a singer/rapper whose burgeoning solo career gets derailed in this mockumentary written and directed by the members of The Lonely Island.

The Lonely Island, the comedy trio formed by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone in 2001, has successfully translated their brand of satirical music video to the big screen with this feature debut, written by all three Saturday Night Live alums. Starring Samberg as the former member of a hip-hop boy band whose life and career begin to fall apart just as he embarks on a much-hyped solo tour, the funnily titled Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping should have its obvious true-life inspirations wincing. Justin Bieber, I'm talking about you, among many others.

Directed by Schaeffer and Taccone, the film is structured as a mockumentary, which proves a perfect format for the trio's knowing humor. And "knowing" is the key word, since this Judd Apatow-produced comedy reveals an insiders' knowledge of the vapid pop music scene, allowing the jokes, even the weaker ones, to land all the harder.

Samberg plays Conner, or as he's billed, "Conner4Real," a former member of the hit group The Style Boyz. Now the singer/rapper has launched a solo career, much to the consternation of his fellow bandmate Lawrence (Schaffer), who's deeply bitter over the break-up. Lawrence has settled down into a reclusive life as a farmer, while the group's other member, Owen (Taccone), has gone from producing Conner's music to serving as his onstage DJ, equipped only with an iPod.

In time-honored pop star tradition, Conner is an unrepentant, egotistical jerk, the sort whose myriad employees include a "perspective manipulator," meaning a short guy who stands next to him at photo ops to make him look taller. When he proudly records a song calling for gay marriage to be legalized (conveniently ignoring the fact that it already is), he repeatedly affirms "Not gay!" about himself. One of the singles from his second album, dubbed CONNquest, is the disingenuously titled "I'm So Humble."

Unsurprisingly, Conner's album gets withering pans from the music critics, although he's heartened when he receives a rave from … The Onion. His personal life, including an ill-fated relationship with the publicity-obsessed Ashley Wednesday (Imogen Poots), hits the skids, especially when his very public marriage proposal, which featured a live performance by Seal, is violently derailed by wolves. And his tour is a disaster, thanks to a severe wardrobe malfunction and the machinations of Hunter the Hungry (a very funny Chris Redd), his ambitious opening act. Finally, in an effort to regain his popularity, Conner contemplates reuniting with his former bandmates, but that comes with its own set of comic complications.

The Lonely Island, whose digital shorts including "Dick in a Box," "Lazy Sunday" and "I Just Had Sex" became viral sensations, are clearly familiar with this milieu, and Popstar is filled with the sort of sly jokes whose targets music fans should have no problem recognizing. One of the film's funniest bits involves Conner's tie-in with an appliance manufacturer (its representative hilariously played by Maya Rudolph) that results in his music blaring from toasters and ovens, much to their owners' annoyance.

Samberg has put his well-filled Rolodex (or whatever its 21st century equivalent is) to extensive use, with the film featuring funny cameos from scores of music stars including Nas, Questlove, Carrie Underwood, Adam Levine, Mariah Carey, DJ Khaled, Usher and Michael Bolton. (Probably the biggest "get" is Ringo Starr, who scores one of the film's biggest laughs.) The supporting cast is equally stuffed with familiar faces, including Tim Meadows as Conner's beleaguered manager; Sarah Silverman as his ever-patient publicist; Joan Cusack as his mom; and Bill Hader and Kevin Nealon in smaller roles. Will Arnett also shows up in a recurrent bit that mercilessly sends up TMZ personalities.

And, of course, the pic features plenty of satirical music videos that will soon take on a life of their own, including "Mona Lisa," in which Conner describes the iconic painting as "the original basic bitch."

Production companies: Perfect World Pictures, Apatow Company, Lonely Island, Universal Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Joan Cusack, Imogen Poots, Chris Redd, Edgar Blackmon, James Buckley
Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Screenwriters: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Andy Samberg
Producers: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Judd Apatow, Andy Samberg, Rodney Rothman
Executive producer: Morgan Sackett
Director of photography: Brandon Trost
Production designer: Jon Billington
Editors: Jamie Gross, Craig Alpert, Stacey Schroeder
Costume designer: Sophie de Rakoff
Composer: Matthew Compton
Casting: Allison Jones

Rated R, 87 minutes

comments powered by Disqus