Saturday, June 11, 2016

'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping' review

When This is Spinal Tap debuted in theaters in 1984, Rob Reiner's film changed the definition of what a comedy could be. Satirizing the rock bands of the day through a faux-documentary format, the film became an instant classic and is lauded as the greatest mockumentary of all time. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can't avoid the obvious comparisons to Spinal Tap, so instead, the film embraces the similarity and uses it to take down the wild world of today's pop music scene. Popstar, which comes from the SNL trio known as The Lonely Island (comprised of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer), won't be nearly as revolutionary as Reiner's classic. Nonetheless, the story of Justin Bieber-esque superstar Conner4Real is the funniest movie of the year so far- raunchy, clever, and consistently on target. Filled with some of the most hysterical songs to come from The Lonely Island in recent years and a great sense of fun, Popstar is a brilliant slice of comedic joy.

In Never Stop Never Stopping, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) is one of the most popular stars on the planet, a former boy band star who has risen to success as a solo artist. Once a member of the Style Boyz with childhood friends Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), Conner has now become a record-breaking artist of his own. He sells out tour dates like it's nothing, is surrounded by yes men, and has a highly inflated ego. His last studio album was a major success, and for his follow-up, ConnQuest, Conner has decided that he wants to try something different. He writes all of his own songs, experiments in different genres, and tries to craft music that will feel like his own. Unfortunately, Conner on his own isn't very good.

In the past, the charismatic and beloved star has relied on bandmate-turned-DJ Owen and songwriter Lawrence to give him the material to use. But this time out, Conner has shut everyone out and written his own material, which ends up being both insensitive (the supposed LGBT anthem "Equal Rights") and totally absurd (the Bin Laden assassination metaphor "Finest Girl"). With awful reviews (the only positive one is from The Onion), terrible record sales, a fading tour, and the loss of key advisers, Conner will try everything to keep his stardom afloat. Bringing on a young breakout rapper, utilizing bizarre stage gimmicks, constant Snapchat updates- Conner tries it all. But ultimately, in order to resurrect his career, a trip to his estranged past might be in order.

Giving a traditional plot summary for Popstar really feels like an exercise in futility. This isn't a movie that features a twisty narrative or one full of surprises. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Popstar is incredibly predictable, which is its main flaw. As soon as this movie starts, you pretty much know where it's going- the narrative trajectory is incredibly visible. But that isn't the point. This movie is meant to make you laugh. Plain and simple, that's it's job. And on that front, it delivers. Nearly every scene is laugh-out-loud funny, mixing lyrical genius, gross-out gags, and strange satirical twists for a comedic concoction that simply works. There are certain songs and jokes in this movie that will stand out in my mind forever.

But thankfully, The Lonely Island manages to create something really special. The filmmaking team of Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone have made a movie that never loses sight of its constant comedic ambitions, while also being filled with heart. The story in Popstar is flimsy, but the emotional narrative is always on point. Conner, Owen, and Lawrence have a likable chemistry and it's fun to see the group's triumphs and failures. But the magic of it is that the growth of Conner as a person and superstar never feels forced. Some comedies will stop halfway through to deliver a scene that is shoehorned in for the sake of character development. Not in Popstar. The character work in this film is really well done, and the dynamic between the Style Boyz culminates with a great emotional payoff.

Popstar balances that strong heart with a brilliant parody of our modern media system that feels both timely and smart. As much as Spinal Tap was a reaction to the hair bands of the 1980s, Conner4Real is a reaction to the Justin Bieber and One Direction generation that has dominated modern pop music. And as someone who has grown up in that time frame (I was in 6th grade when Bieber was at his high point), this movie really resonated. Popstar gets so many things right. The constant overlooming presence of social media, the all-encompassing ego that feeds into so many of these musicians, the media obsession with celebrity downfalls, the extravagance, the weird connections with other stars, TMZ- this movie hits it all and it's so spectacularly funny. The humor is raunchy and strange, but because of the fact that so many things in this movie ring true, Popstar almost works as an absurdist document of 21st century stardom.

And don't even get me started on the songs. The Lonely Island has always been a musical group first and foremost, so when I heard that they were doing a film that involved a fake popstar, I knew we were in for a musical treat. The band delivered on that promise, giving us plenty of songs that will likely go on to become iconic Lonely Island jams. The obvious standout is "Finest Girl," also known as the Bin Laden song. The outrageously hysterical song features an extended metaphor that involves a girl who demands to have sex similar to how the military "f**ked Bin Laden." I kid you not. It sounds ridiculous, but it's so good. "I'm So Humble" fits in the theme of the film and practically works as its anthem, while the rampant silliness of "Mona Lisa" feels like a nice touch. And finally, "Incredible Thoughts" is a tremendous closer, utilizing Michael Bolton and Justin Timberlake for what feels like the ultimate Lonely Island song. This soundtrack is just an absolute treat.

Having flopped at the box office, Popster has the potential to fade into oblivion. Comparisons are already being made to Jorma Taccone's MacGruber, which has gone on to become a cult classic since its release in 2010. But in my mind, Popstar deserves better than that. The Lonely Island has been consistently delivering parodies of pop culture touchstones for years now, blowing up the internet with their wacky videos and addicting beats. As a longtime fan of the group, Popstar feels like their best work yet. It takes the talents of this comedic trio to an entirely new level, creating a movie that is sharp, witty, and consistently insane. The Lonely Island has made a successful move to the big screen and the result is an instant comedy classic and a great time at the movies.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                             (8.6/10)

Image Credits: YouTube, EW, Fandango, Joblo

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the film deserves much better. The movie is hilarious, clever, and it should be a blast for anyone who is aware of current pop culture.

    Nice review.

    - Zach (