Monday, June 13, 2016

Movie Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directed by:  Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone.
Written by: Andy Samberg & Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone.
Starring: Andy Samberg (Conner), Jorma Taccone (Owen), Akiva Schaffer (Lawrence), Sarah Silverman (Paula), Tim Meadows (Harry), Maya Rudolph (Deborah), Joan Cusack (Tilly), Imogen Poots (Ashley), Chris Redd (Hunter).
I’m not sure Andy Samberg is capable of playing a real asshole – but I am quite sure that I don’t care that he can’t. You would expect Samberg to make Conner, the Justin Bieber-like singer at the center of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping into a narcissistic asshole, because then, the audience can delight in that character eventually getting his comeuppance. But Samberg doesn’t do that – underneath all the bluster and ego that is Conner’s outer layer, and the image he wants to give to the world, Conner is really just a dim bulb and dammit, he’s kind of lovable. How he managed to make an entitled popstar like Conner likable is both a mystery, but also the reason why the film works so well. Sitting back to point and laugh at a dickhead would be funny for a while, and then just sad. This film first deflates his ego, then makes you like the guy. It’s quite a feat.
From beginning to end, Popstar mocks pretty much everything about the modern music industry, and celebrity culture, in ways that are both very obvious and very subtle. The announced “surprise” release of Conner’s album, the corporate sponsorship that forces the album to consumers who don’t want it (in a way that is far funnier than how we all just suddenly owned U2’s album on iTunes). How Conner’s girlfriend (Imogen Poots) talks about how she always wanted to be part of a celebrity couple that you can never be sure if they were real or just a publicity stunt, the absolutely merciless takedown of TMZ are all foregrounded and obvious – but also very funny. There’s also some great moments that only happen in the background though, that are never really commented on (look at the TV’s behind Conner in many scenes – it really does appear like US economy and government is going into meltdown – and no one in the movie seems to care). The songs in the movie are all excellent. This is a Lonely Island movie – and that trio who produced a number of memorable songs for SNL – like Dick in a Box, I’m On a Boat, etc. – are at their height here. Their songs are dead on parodies of what they are mocking – musically, the sound like actual hits, lyrically, they are hilarious. There is a song in Popstar that parodies Macklemore, and it’s the hardest I’ve laughed in a movie theater in a long time.
The film does have a plot – although it basically uses it as a clothesline to hang jokes on. The film desperately wants to be This is Spinal Tap for a new generation, and it uses the mock-umentary format that film invented (yes, I know, there were mock-documentaries before This is Spinal Tap – but nothing quite like that film was) – and it uses it well. The film is full of celebrity cameos – some who only appear in a scene or two, sometimes playing themselves, sometimes not, all of them seemingly being a good sport about mocking themselves and their image. The film follows Conner as he launches his second solo album – the first was a huge hit, but this one has the making of a disaster. Conner used to be part of a Beastie Boys-type group – but he was the “real” star, so he broke out solo – even though it was Owen (Jorma Taccone), who wrote all the beats (and is now just Conner’s DJ) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) who wrote all the lyrics. But they didn’t have Conner’s star quality.
The movie is at its best when it ignores it plot however – we know that they group, known as Style Boyz, will eventually get back together, so all of the scenes the film spends getting there can be labored. Its best moments are the ones that are connected to nothing around them – the songs, the asides (there is a joke about a “hard r” that was barely audible, but just about the funniest line in the movie).
The movie, unfortunately, bombed at the box office – and yet, I cannot imagine that film will not become a cult hit – the kind of film that people play in dorms room, either with or without the aid of pot, for years to come. It is a stupid comedy – but a smart stupid comedy, and its hit-to-miss ratio in terms of jokes is really quite high. I hope that it does become that cult hit – it deserves to be, and I can see myself watching it over-and-over on cable (like Zoolander) for years to come. But mostly, it’s because I want to see this trio of guys get another shot at making a movie – and with these box office numbers, that doesn’t appear likely – even if they made one of the funniest mainstream comedies of the year.

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