Movie Review – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Andy Samberg is loud and obnoxious, and it’s not just the character he’s playing in this movie. He’s doing a shtick that he honed during his time at Saturday Night Live, a shtick that works in small bursts as one gets in a sketch comedy. It might even work in a half-hour sitcom as Samberg does in his FOX series Brooklyn Nine-Nine. As a feature-length film, it’s perhaps a little intolerable. This faux, music documentary mimics but doesn’t come close to touching classics like Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap or Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind, mainly because Samberg and his The Lonely Island crew are aiming at low-hanging fruit, truly easy targets, Justin Bieber being one and washed-up boy bands being another. Mocking something that already makes a mockery of itself isn’t funny. It’s lazy really.
Yet, it’s not just Bieber or boy bands, Samberg excoriates the entire music industry and that industry is rather ripe for attack. Samberg does touch upon some great topics like theatrics or gimmicks that some performers use, commercialism or the idea of selling out, as well as songwriting credit. It’s odd, given that Justin Timberlake is in this film, that Samberg didn’t think to tackle how the Internet changed the music industry. Timberlake famously played Sean Parker in the Oscar-winning The Social Network. Parker was in fact the creator of Napster, the first, major, online music-sharing website, a precursor to Spotify, which has become a source of controversy with a lot in the music industry.
Dealing with Spotify or the relationships with record labels was probably too complicated for Samberg. To him, comedy is all about simplicity, meaning penises and bird poop, as well as drugs. This isn’t to say that penises, poop and paraphernalia can’t be funny. There are moments here where those things are used to great effect, or rather the lack thereof is used to great effect.
Without spoiling the joke too much, there is one great scene where the lack of showing a penis when one expects to see a penis actually turns out to be pretty hilarious. Of course, the lack of male genitalia in that scene is totally balanced with a huge male member shoved in our faces later. It’s good for an uncomfortable chuckle, but, in mass, everything else with Samberg doesn’t work much.
Samberg stars as Conner, a pop singer who used to be the main vocalist for a group called Style Boyz. The group consisted of two other guys. Owen, played by Jorma Taccone, came up with the music or the beats, and Lawrence, played by Akiva Schaffer, came up with the lyrics. Their songs would never sell in the real-world unless they were featured on a Weird Al Yankovic record. Yet, in the world of this film, their songs were mega hits. It almost makes me wish the songs here were written by Weird Al Yankovic, then the satire would be sharper and a bit more pointed.
The story follows Conner as he’s about to release his second, solo album, having broken from the Style Boyz some years before. His increasing, diva-like personality is leading him down a path that will no doubt sink him but the music tastes of people at large is hard to gauge. He continues to alienate people around him, forcing him to see if he really can survive on his own or if he even wants to do so. The movie is definitely a rebuke of the narcissism, the pretentiousness and the egotism, which can arise among music artists.
The problem is that Samberg’s spoof doesn’t really have the courage of its convictions. Bieber and even someone like Bono from U2 or Zayn from One Direction are easy targets. It would have been braver if Samberg and company took on someone like Chris Brown, Kanye West or Beyoncé. Instead, they make a cheap joke at Tony! Toni! Toné! There isn’t enough teeth here.
Of all the songs produced, the only good one is “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song).” However, the first time I heard it was in music video form, aka the SNL Digital Short that aired during the season finale of Saturday Night Live on May 21. That video was hilarious, but seeing it again in the context of the movie was pretty lame because it ended up being just a straight-forward stage performance.
Sarah Silverman plays Conner’s agent. She’s always good for a laugh. Her one-liners are great. There’s a great moment when Nas makes a joke regarding The Good Wife that made me smile, but I would say that that one digital short was funnier than this whole movie.
Yet, Samberg, Timberlake, and The Lonely Island won an Emmy for a crazy sex-related song they wrote. Who knows “Finest Girl” could take them all the way to the 89th Academy Awards. If it did, that would be funny.
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.