Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping aims to be this generation’s answer to Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap – a film that parodies music documentaries and concert movies. Whether or not it will ever be regarded as highly, only time will tell. What I can say with certainty is that Popstar is quite funny and timely, with recent documentaries starring Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, One Direction, and the cast of Glee all being a great well to draw from. The film is also, in its own juvenile and foul-mouthed way, a sweet (if hopelessly predictable) friendship story and a surprisingly effective examination of what fame can do to a person. The one way this film isn’t like recent concert documentaries, thank God, is its presentation in 2D.
It stars and was written and directed by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, collectively known as the comedy rap group The Lonely Island. If there’s anything we’ve learned by watching their Saturday Night Live shorts and internet music videos, it’s that they have genuine musical talent. True, it’s applied to lyrics and even song titles that can’t be repeated on a family website – such as the one about gift wrapping male genitalia, or the one about ejaculating in your pants at the slightest provocation – but there’s no denying that said lyrics are structured in a way that suggests actual effort. The same can be said for their music. They’re not merely trying to be silly and vulgar; they really do want to produce great songs.
The plot involves the very Twitter-esque-named Conner4Real (Samberg) and his struggle to maintain his fame and celebrity following the breakup of his boy band and the failure of his solo album. He isn’t a direct parody of Justin Bieber so much as a broad, distorted reflection of the image adopted by Bieber and those like him. Samberg owns this role, and I mean in ways apart from his musical chops; he captures the look, the stage persona, the attitude, and the ego with an edge that’s satirical but not overly campy. His performance is so effective, it’s almost a shame to point out that, at thirty-seven, he’s physically well past the age of young pop stars like Justin Bieber. Then again, for all I know, that might have been an intentional move, made in the spirit of parody.
As would be expected, the film features a large number of celebrity cameos, including but not limited to Pink, Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood, Snoop Dogg, Seal, Adam Levine, Ringo Starr, Usher, and Simon Cowell. It was actually quite funny, listening to these people give testimonials about how Conner’s music affected them so deeply. Isn’t that how it is in every music documentary? You’d think every artist who ever lived was a pioneer, and every song ever written was a groundbreaking achievement. There are also a slew of side characters, a surprising number of which are played by former Saturday Night Live cast members. There’s Tim Meadows as Conner’s manager, Sarah Silverman as his publicist, Maya Rudolph as his corporate sponsor, Bill Hader as his roadie, Joan Cusack as his alcoholic mother, and Kevin Nealon as a red-carpet paparazzo. There’s even a spot for frequent Lonely Island collaborator Justin Timberlake.
As would also be expected, the film pokes fun at aspects of the music industry, as well as the cult of celebrity. Take, for example, Conner’s former bandmate turned DJ (Taccone), who surrounds himself with various keyboards and turntables yet uses nothing more than an iPod on stage. Also take the publicity stunt of Conner proposing to his girlfriend (Imogen Poots), which goes spectacularly wrong when the wolves he requested for the occasion break free of their leashes. And finally, take the desperate ploy of pairing Conner with an impulsive, reckless, insensitive, egocentric rap artist (Chris Redd) in order to drum up ticket sales. Let’s just say that he’s known for pulling pranks, and that one of them involves Conner’s wardrobe, and that it leads to hilarious results. Oh, and I can’t forget about an entertainment news show obviously modeled after TMZ, in which Will Arnett and his staff repeatedly reveal their total lack of journalistic integrity.
There are, of course, several jokes that don’t work. Example: The one where Conner describes how his earliest lyrics were thoughtful and intelligent, and then we cut to a clip of him performing with his band, unleashing a very obvious stream of crude obscenities. Another example: The one where Conner and his manager ask the camera crew to not film them as they talk privately, and we subsequently hear audio of them being attacked by a gigantic swarm of bees. But every comedy is entitled to a few missteps. On the whole, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is very funny. But it’s more than that. It’s also observant, well cast, convincingly performed, and yes, even a little poignant.