Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Dir. Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone

[Universal Pictures; 2016]

Styles: mockumentary
Others: This Is Spinal Tap, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Katy Perry: Part Of Me

Our current entertainment society seems like it should be parody-proof. In a world that revels in product placement, paid endorsements, manufactured stars, and forced reality show drama, it seems like it would be hard for parody to pierce such smug armor. What can be said about it that the subjects don’t already admit to themselves? Luckily, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, the new film from The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone), finds plenty to mock about the state of pop music. The mockumentary is a great slice of parody that skewers recent concert/behind the scenes films like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Katy Perry: Part Of Me while also being completely absurd in its own right. The storyline may be too obvious and basic at times — perhaps too formulaic for its own good — but the film’s constant barrage of jokes makes it a worthwhile and hilarious spiritual successor to that ur-mockmentary of music, This Is Spinal Tap.

The film centers around Conner4Real (Samberg), who once belonged to a b-boy trio before breaking out into his own massively successful solo career. As he readies to launch his new album and concert tour, a “documentary crew” follows him around to witness its disappointing reception and how he reacts to various problems of being a pop star in the social media age. With a tremendous entourage, including his DJ Contact (Taccone), manager (Tim Meadows), and publicist (Sarah Silverman), Conner is faced with the real possibility of being an early wash out who unfortunately believed his own hype too much.

Not only does Popstar work as a commentary on modern pop vehicles and celebrities, but it also has enough weirdness and one-off jokes that make it instantly quotable. This should be expected from the directors of two underrated comedies of the past decade — Schaffer’s Hot Rod and Taccone’s MacGruber, both of which have become cult classics — at the helm of this new film. Little bits like a guitar tech who is obsessed with Flatliners, Tim Meadows’s manager character’s history with the group Tony! Toni! Toné!, or a fantastic off screen war with a massive swarm of bees all help inform the more absurd elements of this farce.

It also helps the film that The Lonely Island has always been good at writing catchy but goofy songs, and those are on full display in Schaffer and Taccone’s film. There are numerous earworms here that may get stuck in audiences’ heads. A clever takedown of Macklemore’s “Same Love,” in which Conner constantly asserts he’s not gay; a ballad to a woman that seems a bit too obsessed with the killing of Bin Laden; a weird diss track that attacks the “Mona Lisa” for being overrated — these are just some of the songs that work not just as jokes, but also as infectious examples of the music the film spoofs. This same ability to be both proficient and profane extends to celebrity cameos playing themselves mocking their own media personalities while seemingly being sincere in their praise for Conner4Real. It’s that mixture of sincerity and absurdity that the Lonely Island crew has always been able to pull off exceptionally well that makes this film work.

Some of the story elements in Popstar are a bit too formulaic (which could be justified as these docs always seem to follow a pattern, even unintentionally) so that the film sags a bit in the third act. But just when it seems like the film has run out of steam, a new visual gag will pop up or a great scene between the actors will occur and inject the movie with a new energy that keeps it going (not unlike the sensation of Flatliners if you think about it). The rise and fall from grace and then redemption story is a well worn plot in both comedies and music biopics, so it makes sense that the film would follow that narrative trajectory; it’s just kind of a bummer that it’s such a familiar trope that it can feel like going through the motions.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is an energetic, sincere, absurd takedown of celebrity excess that works incredibly well. There are catchy songs, memorable characters, quotable lines, and iconic visual gags. While its story is lackluster, the telling of it is not, and it becomes a fun spectacle of ego and stupidity in the best way possible. In an era saturated with popstars who are ready made for public consumption, this mockumentary skewers that entertainment diet.

Most Read