Thursday, June 2, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping takes aim at spoiled pop artists before we ever see a frame of footage (the title is a riff on the 2011 documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never), but this movie isn't only interested in raking singers over the coals: it's out to make fun of the entire music industry and the culture surrounding it. Celebrity romances, TMZ, social media, traditional news networks, and much more are skewered in this ridiculous — and often hilarious — examination of superstardom from The Lonely Island.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directors: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone
Starring: Andy Samberg, Tim Meadows, Sarah Silverman

Andy Samberg plays Conner4Real, a former member of a cheesy '90s boy band musical trio known as the Style Boyz, which was comprised of Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer). The group broke up and Conner started a successful solo career, and we catch up with him as his second solo album debuts and instantly tanks. Conner is forced to deal with real adversity for the first time in his life, and the movie adopts a romcom structure with its central relationship, with Conner and Lawrence being the two star-crossed buds and Owen being the best friend trying to reunite the trio again. Along the way, there are plenty of cameos from famous real-life musicians, and digs at Macklemore's posturing, the way Apple forced U2's album on every iTunes user, the way Jimmy Fallon panders to nostalgia on The Tonight Show, and much more.

There may be a tendency to dismiss what this film does as being "easy" due to the nature of what it's parodying. Bieber, holograms, and tabloid culture are undoubtedly low-hanging fruit. And admittedly, a spoof of a music documentary doesn't exactly seem like a wildly ambitious project. Co-directors Schaffer and Taccone capably recreate the look of a typical music doc, and Samberg is an enjoyable comedic performer, but the thing that elevates The Lonely Island above being just another group of filmmakers messing around with a genre exercise is their music. They've always been great at creating songs that, on the surface, sound just as impressive as anything from any conventional pop artist. That's an undervalued skill, and it pays off in big ways here. In a film loaded with fun and catchy music, the highlights include a performance of "Finest Girl (The Bin Laden Song)," which debuted as a music video on Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks ago, and the climactic final set piece, which I won't spoil. (None of them are quite as good as their classic SNL digital shorts, but they work just fine.)

While it never makes any truly insightful or unique observations about the music industry, Popstar has a sense of playfulness to it that makes it a blast to watch. While the music industry takes the brunt of the jokes, there are a few moments that deconstruct movie tropes as well. At one point, the guys ask the doc crew to stop filming, so we see a black screen with subtitles as they carry on their conversation; needless to say, it doesn't go as expected. Later, when Conner is faced with a big choice, a nearby stage producer narrates his every action to her boss through her headset and tries to guess what he's thinking, humorously taking the air out of what would be "the big conflict moment" in any other movie. And with a runtime of just 86 minutes, it's one of the few movies I've seen in the past few months that doesn't overstay its welcome. It's one of the funniest movies of the year so far, and like almost everything else The Lonely Island touches, I suspect this will become a cult hit that will get a lot of replay value from fans.

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