"Never wanted to be no pop singer...
Never wanted to write no pop songs."
As I left the theatre after watching Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, I suddenly realized I'd arrived at my car loudly belting out the words to John Mellencamp's Top 20 hit from 1989, Pop Singer. That's a pretty weird irony considering I'd just spent just shy of 90 minutes watching the trio known as The Lonely Island - Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, absolutely and hilariously skewer the very pop culture that helped to birth them.
Somewhat surprisingly, even for those who've grown to love the three-minute skits and SNL-featured songs like "Dick in a Box" and "I Just Had Sex," Popstar is an absolute comedic gem both intelligently written and quite often laugh out loud funny as it affectionately yet pointedly pokes fun at celebrity culture, pop music, social media and a host of today's most over-exposed stars many of whom actually show up in the film and poke fun at themselves.
Filmed in what could be somewhat described as a style weaving together satire with mockumentary, Popstar kicks off by introducing us to the Style Boyz, a boy band meets hip-hop band that strikes gold with catchy tunes like "The Donkey Roll" and "Karate Guy." All is well until Conner (Samberg), the lead singer, becomes the most famous one in the group with an ego to match leading to a not so amicable break-up and Conner's detour into a solo act as Conner4Real. Quickly becoming both an award-winning and bestselling artist, Popstar really kicks into high gear with Conner on the eve of the release of his second album, an album that comes with outrageously high expectations that led Conner to hire 100 producers to ensure the album includes everything that every pop star has to have on their album such as a hilariously godawful yet awesomely tone deaf and allegedly social justice tune about gay marriage during which the clueless Conner repeatedly informs the listener that while he believes in gay marriage "I'm not gay."
Trust me. There's no way I could possibly capture how funny some of these tunes are woven into the fabric of the absurdism meets reality show. When the Style Boyz split up, Kid Contact (Taccone) stayed on with Conner but took a backseat role as the DJ while Kid Brain (Schaffer), bitter due to believing he didn't get the credit deserved for writing key lyrics, left the scene to take up woodworking and assorted other activities on rural farmland.
The truth is that as soon as you know how Popstar begins, you pretty much know how it's all going to end.
Trust me. It doesn't matter.
You'll be so busy laughing, you won't pay attention to the relatively paint-by-numbers storyline that is way more about the journey than the destination. The Lonely Island started as a comedy trio way back in 2001 and it's that cohesion and chemistry that is at the core of why Popstar works. You can tell these guys know each other. You can tell these guys care about each other. You can tell they know each other's strengths and weaknesses and timing and everything else. The end result is an 86-minute film that is paced nearly perfectly, though certainly not every comedy bit drops like it's hot.
What does that even mean anyway?
While Samberg is unquestionably the leading actor here, and he's definitely the most charismatic, it's also true that Popstar absolutely rocks it precisely because these three work so beautifully together. Schaffer and Taccone co-direct the film and all three of them have co-written it, a strong indicator that their singular vision absolutely comes to life here.
Popstar is that rare pop culture satire that works whether you get all its pop culture references or not. If you get it? You'll be amazed at how they are woven into the film without disrupting it, From Bieber's Anne Frank House visit to Marky Mark's underwear modeling days to an almost "blink and you'll miss it" nod to U2's ill-conceived "Songs of Innocence" promotion, Popstar affectionately makes fun at today's household names then brings an awful lot of them in to laugh about it, too. I wouldn't dare mention all of the names, after all half the fun is being surprised, but well publicized ones like Mariah Carey, Adam Levine, Carrie Underwood and a host of others from across genres all seem to be having a good time here.
Popstar skewers celebrity without attacking the celebrities themselves and, yeah, some of those folks who've shown up in their now famous songs will show up here. I'm telling you, man. It all works.
Presiding over all this awesomeness is Samberg, who clearly adores this character and it absolutely shows. Conner is self-centered, ego-driven, and outrageously narcissistic but you absolutely never stop loving him. He turns you into a belieber.
Well, you know what I mean.
Taccone infuses the film with just a dash of heart and sincerity, while Schaffer's Kid Brain is dry and deadpan and just plain awesome. Tim Meadows is terrific as the manager who will do just about anything to make a buck, while Sarah Silverman once again delivers both wacky and wonderful often in the same sentence. Chris Redd, as opening act Hunter the Hungry, may very well serve up the film's break-out performance and certainly serves notice that Hollywood needs to be using him a whole lot more.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping isn't a flawless film. In a film such as this one, it's almost inevitable that some of the comedy will fall flat. Who cares? So much of it works and the entire film so far transcends what anyone would have the right to expect from a feature film borne out of comedy sketches that you can't help but surrender yourself to the abundant laughs and what is no doubt one of the year's best comedies so far.
Leave your brain at the door. Put your dick, or someone else's, in a box. Get your ass to the movie theater.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic