Ever since the group’s inception as viral superstars back in 2009, The Lonely Island has always existed as both deconstruction and celebration of pop and rap music. While I’m On A Boat, I Just Had Sex, and YOLO may just seem like a silly exercise in shock humor at first glance, they are actually rather robust in both production and lyricism. They’re genuinely well-assembled songs that ring just as well on a breezy car ride as the music that they hold a mirror up to. As such, Popstar is nothing if not a natural progression for the Island boys. It opts to parody the fluffy, substance-free “documentaries” that often accompany the latest crooner who spends more money on fireworks and costumes than singing lessons. A Spinal Tap for the Snapchat generation.
The film chronicles the life, music, and career of Conner Friel (Andy Samberg), a former member of a 3 piece boy band called The Style Boys who has gone solo under the name Conner4Real. Achieving wild, Timberlake like success with his initial album, Conner manages to keep one of his bandmates, Owen (Jorma Taccone), on as a DJ while losing Lawrence (Akiva Shaffer) after a dispute over lyrics. It’s a life of sold out shows, crazy parties, and Snapchat videos galore until Conner drops his disastrous second album. Desperate to win back his quickly dwindling fanbase, Conner embarks on a new tour while looking for a new gimmick that will take him back to the top.
Under the direction of Taccone and Shaffer, Popstar takes no prisoners in its all-out assault on the pop music landscape. At the center of it all is Samberg, who gives an endlessly earnest leading man turn here. It would have been very easy to make Conner as annoying to the audience as he seems to be to the film’s general public, but Samberg keeps him grounded in his own ridiculous logic. He’s not arrogant so much as he is just brainwashed by his success and admiration, having been told that as a mega-star, everything he does is worth sharing. As expected, he’s also excellent in the musical numbers. In fact, he busts out these ridiculous bars with such conviction that if they weren’t so funny, you might just forget that they weren’t real pop songs. Samberg has had a bit of a hard time transitioning to a Hollywood leading man over the years, but here he has finally found his groove. In addition, a series of hysterical celebrity cameos help sell the fake interviews. Not many of them get a great deal of screen time, and perhaps they’re not the best actors, but if anything that just sells the film’s satire all the more.
If anything, it’s the actual supporting cast that rings a bit false. Perhaps holding their focus on directing Taccone and Shaffer’s roles are extremely limited and not especially dynamic. In fact, the movie is so completely in love with Samberg that it’s rather hard to invest in either of their characters at all. This proves especially disappointing when the three do eventually come together, as their wonderful chemistry immediately pops, begging the question of if a movie about The Style Boys would have hit stronger. Meanwhile, Imogen Poots, Bill Hader, and Joan Cusack only occasionally hit in supporting roles, with Tim Meadows being the only truly consistent laugh ringer as Conner’s exasperated manager.
Fortunately, the film constantly falls back on its ace in the hole, the music. Every single one of these songs score huge laughs, and while a few of them have been thrown out early, there are still plenty of surprises left in store. In fact, an early-on onslaught on Macklemore’s Same Love rings so brutally true that it is worth the price of admission alone. It would not be surprising to see the soundtrack see greater success than the film itself, and perhaps even score a best original song nomination or two. It’s easy to wonder what could have been done if the film had gone full ham and had some ridiculous 3D concert sequences to push these numbers into overdrive, which may have been the final touch needed to guarantee the film’s success.
Much like the music it satirizes, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is short, bubbly, and highly entertaining. It’s sharp and funny without being mean-spirited, which is best expressed in Samberg’s performance which holds the whole thing together. The only disappointment comes from it never quite reaching the zany comedic heights that it occasionally hints at being in reach of. One more punch up draft for the supporting characters and perhaps a bit more commitment to the absurdity of its’ premise and this could have been a comedy classic that acts as a perfect time capsule for the time it was made. However, it gets the job done as it stands, with several big laughs and hilarious songs that it’ll be hard to not hum walking out of the theater. Hopefully, it stays in the top forty long enough for people to discover it in this crowded summer season.