8.5 out of 10
Andy Samberg as Conner Friel/Conner4real
Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Review:
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’s brand of humor comes straight out of This Is Spinal Tap (I swear that in one scene it looks like there’s a statue of Stonehenge on a table), but that doesn’t make it any less funny. Sure, many will recognize who the movie’s making fun of – from Justin Bieber, to U2’s recent partnership with Apple to distribute their latest album, to the outrageousness of Kanye West – but the satire is candy-coated. Popstar doesn’t pull punches, but it’s obvious that the filmmakers love the celebrities that they’re mocking. That’s essential, actually – Popstar recognizes the ridiculousness of today’s pop culture, but it’s also sweet and very much a fan. Most satires shouldn’t fall in love too much with their subjects, but Popstar doesn’t suffer for it. In fact, the adoration makes it funnier.
Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, of course, are no strangers to this stuff – The Lonely Island has been poking fun at music and celebrity for years, but in Popstar they focus that humor like a laser beam. There are very few jokes that fall flat, and these jokes work on multiple levels. They can be crude, disturbing, subtle; sometimes all at once. Popstar will be a movie to put on repeat watch, for certain. The sheer volume of jokes guarantees that; I’m certain I missed some due to the raucous laughter. It doesn’t overstay its welcome either. Popstar comes in at a sleek 86 minutes, with not a one wasted. With this film and Neighbors 2, we may be seeing a mini-revolution in comedy here – like that sequel, Popstar is never mean-spirited or cruel. It makes fun of its characters, but we still root for them through their adversity.
It should be no surprise that the songs are terrific too, coming from The Lonely Island, but they aren’t simply funny but well-written. This is probably a soundtrack you’re going to want to own, if you enjoy the movie. Songs like “I’m So Humble” and “Mona Lisa” (“The original basic bitch”) are hilarious and catchy, even if the lyrics probably aren’t the most appropriate to sing along to as you walk down the street.
Connor4real (Samberg) wants to stay relevant, and more importantly sell albums, but since his solo debut, he struggles to sell out concert halls. His new album Connquest is terribly reviewed by the critics (“Rolling Stone gave Connquest the sh*t emoji”), and Conner is forced to add another artist to open for him, who quickly overtakes Conner in popularity. His fans would love to see Conner reunite with his former bandmates in the Style Boyz. While Owen (Taccone) is Conner’s DJ, Lawrence (Schaffer) has left the musician life to live on a farm, refusing to have anything to do with Conner. If you’ve ever seen This Is Spinal Tap, you know how this story will go, but Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone bring a fresh perspective and a modern take on the material. In a world of Snapchat, music piracy, and the 24-hour news cycle, Conner4real must constantly try everything in his power to stay in the news. Even Conner’s manager Harry (Tim Meadows) and publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman) can’t help.
What makes Popstar work as well as it does isn’t just the music or the humor, but the emotion and heart. We like Conner, even though he’s not the brightest bulb in the sign, and Samberg gives him a vulnerability amidst all the bluster and grandiosity. Lawrence and Owen also care for Conner even though circumstances and egos have kept them apart. Popstar also delivers the jokes non-stop, so much so that we’re laughing in empathy. Popstar is also on point with the cameos, most too great to mention.
Brandon Trost is Popstar’s secret weapon. He’s quickly becoming the go-to guy when it comes to shooting comedies, and Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone use him perfectly. The musical setpieces are also astonishingly good – although the songs make be full of jokes, they certainly aren’t performed that way. The choreography and the performances are terrific, and they work perfectly with the character. Conner’s a lovable idiot, but he’s also undeniably talented, and Samberg knows how to straddle both with real comedic skill. Between Taccone and Schaffer, we’ve seen some of the best comedies of all time (MacGruber and Hot Rod, anyone?), and Popstar confirms them as wonderful directors, with real passion and vision.
It should come as no surprise that this comes out of Judd Apatow’s production company – Apatow loves these stories about adorable losers trying to find their way back to becoming whole, and if the rumors about a certain cameo are true, Apatow may have more to be proud of than just a career in Hollywood. (Keep an eye out for a scene in a limo.) Popstar is yet another great comedy from Apatow, Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone, and comedy feels like it’s undergoing a sort-of renaissance these days. It’s very reminiscent of the golden years of “Saturday Night Live” and National Lampoon, and I hope the quality stays high. Popstar is hilarious, sweet, and full of great songs, and I feel like this may become one of those movies that people will watch a lot in the years to come. While Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping may come from Spinal Tap’s genes, it proudly stands on its own.