The plotline of the music mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, by the sketch comedy group The Lonely Island, is a journey that could be extrapolated onto the story of The Lonely Island themselves. Hired by Saturday Night Live for their hilarious music videos, Andy Samberg proved to be the breakout star, like his character Connor4Real in Popstar, while Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer found success behind the camera as writers and directors (and sometime performers).
The trio share writing and producing duties, while Taccone and Schaffer take on directing the film in which Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer co-star as the Beastie Boys-esque rap group the Style Boyz. When Connor’s stardom takes off as a Justin Bieber-type bad-boy pop star, the group fizzles, and Never Stop Never Stopping follows the peak of his success and ultimate downfall.
The first two-thirds of Popstar use documentary form to gleefully, and savagely, skewer celebrity in the age of non-stop social media, as well as the celebrity-crazed news cycle, where wardrobe malfunctions are breaking news, intimate moments are live-streamed and Big Gulp-swilling entertainment gossip journalists snark the pain away. One of the film’s best bits involves a corporate partnership with an appliance manufacturer to insert Connor’s new album CONNquest into every home appliance, and the invasion of privacy backfires spectacularly.
The jokes are densely packed, and the film merits a second watch simply to try and catch everything that goes by too fast. Also fast and furious are the cameos from celebs, who pop up as themselves, to sing the praises of Connor and the Style Boyz, or playing roles as part of Connor’s entourage. These are to mixed results: Justin Timberlake is having a bit too much silly fun as Connor’s personal tour chef Tyrus, and sadly, Snapchat star DJ Khaled’s appearance already feels dated.
The best parts of Popstar lie in the strengths of the Lonely Island that we’ve loved on SNL — nonsensical and silly takes on pop tunes with sneaky smart and funny raunchy lyrical wordplay, coupled with surprisingly charismatic delivery. The pop parody is on point through Connor’s downfall and dark night of the soul, but the last third feels like The Lonely Island team decided to stop writing and just wrap things up way too quickly and easily. The film stops being satirical, and the self-congratulation starts to feel real. It’s almost as if The Lonely Island starts to take the praise intended for the fictional Style Boyz.
Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Imogen Poots, Bill Hader, Sarah Silverman.
Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone.
Screenwriters: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 86 minutes. Vulgar language, considerable nudity, explicit sex, drug use. Playing at area theaters.