Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" Review: The Laughs Almost Never Stop In This Inspired Comedy


The mockumentary film genre has produced a number of classics and most of those are directly related to the music industry. This is Spinal Tap and Fear of a Black Hat are probably the best that genre has ever produced with Spinal Tap being so good that it transcends the genre it basically perfected. While Spinal Tap featured a rock music group and Black Hat featured rap artists, it was only a matter of time until we got one that explored the behind the scenes shenanigans of the Pop music scene. While not necessarily at the same level of those other films, the new film from the Lonely Island gang Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping hits enough high notes to equal out the ones it misses. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 26 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: June 3, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: Most of the Lonely Island songs
Likes: This is Spinal Tap, Fear the Black Hat
Neutral: Andy Samberg (in general)
Hates: Nothing
How about those cameos?: Michael Bolton and Usher were expected...but Emma Stone...what? Yes please!

Conner is just too dope for his own good.

Ever since he was a kid Conner aka Kid Conner Friel aka Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) was dope. He always knew he wanted to be famous and along with the help of his two childhood friends Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) and Owen (Jorma Taccone) he achieves that goal when they form the hit music group The Style Boyz. After they meet former Tony! Toni! Tone! Tonee? singer Harry (Tim Meadows) who becomes their manager they launch into mega stardom as each new album they release goes on to be a massive success. That success doesn't last long though when Conner begins to alienate his two friends which causes Lawrence to leave and become a farmer and Owen to take a backseat as the DJ for Conner's new solo career. Things get even worse when Conner releases his new solo album Connquest to horrible reviews causing the once dope popstar to reconsider his past actions as he just can't handle all the hate.

Reviewing a film like Popstar is a difficult proposition as most of its humor is derived from carefully set up gags that run through the course of the entire film. If I were to explain them it would lessen their impact and most would be best served being experienced in the moment since they usually only make sense in the context of the film's fabricated reality which is decidedly a mix between the real world and our own exaggerated perceptions of the music industry. Even the moment to moment jokes that spring up throughout the film are difficult to impart to you since they only work in relation to the characters and their wacked sense of identity. Indeed, Popstar is one of those films you truly need to see for yourself to understand if it works for you or not.

Like most solo musicians, Conner's ego is a bit inflated.

What I can tell you though is that Popstar is a very funny and very smart little commentary on the self absorbed world of pop music. As mentioned earlier this style of film isn't anything we haven't seen before but the difference here is that while films like Spinal Tap and Black Hat focused on self entitled egotists, their music at least tried to have meaning behind it. Pop music by definition is superfluous fluff, the type of stuff we listen to when we wanna turn our brains off and just sing along with the catchy chorus. Popstar the film is very similar to its genre of choice as it doesn't really give you much to think about while providing plenty of distractions to make you think you are watching something more meaningful than it actually is.

Take the first single released by Conner for example "Equal Rights" where the lyrics simultaneously praise our individual differences while Conner himself goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure than no one believes he is like the people he is praising. That sort of hypocrysy is at the very heart of what makes Popstar more of a witty statement on the complete ineptitude of the pop music scene than just another empty shell of fluff entertainment, but it still isn't making any real statement beyond the fact that musicians take themselves way too seriously. Most of the praise of course goes to Samberg and the rest of the crew of The Lonely Island who have made numerous albums of their own where they have made it an art to lampoon the self serious music industry as a whole. Sure you can trace most of what they do back to artists like Weird Al Yankovic who pioneered the idea of poking fun at ridiculous nature of the music industry, but The Lonely Island guys have taken that art and all but perfected it with impressively smart lyrics and equally catchy tunes.

Most of their songs revolve around complete nonsense but are still fun.

They bring those talents to the forefront of Popstar and while most of the music featured such as "I'm So Humble" with Conner listing all of his high dollar property and "Finest Girl" where he proceeds to use Bin Laden analogies for having sex do continue their streak of funny and well written songs with catchy beats they pale in comparison to their early efforts such as "Dick in a Box" and "Motherlover". Thankfully the clever writing carried over to more than just the songs with a number of gags and jokes, including an unusual stint with the guys being attacked by a giant queen bee off screen with subtitles and a particularly inspired bit involving Conner being accused of having no penis. There is one gag in particular revolving around the three guys in a limo and a rabid fan who wants their autograph that had me stitches well after it was over and had me still grinning on the ride home from the theater that is quite possibly one of the single funniest jokes in any film from the past few years.

Not all the jokes are centered on the music industry though as showcased with the depiction of the trash news team over at TMZ (here called CMZ) featuring an on point performance from Will Arnett.  The scenes involving the CMZ crew are without a doubt the best running gag in the film (closely followed by that ridiculous helmet that Owen is forced to wear) and only get funnier each time they show up. While the film as a whole was funny from beginning to end, it eventually got to the point where I was anticipating more CMZ stuff than any of the Pop music jokes. How they go from covering Conner's fall from grace to Brad Pitt entering a Denny's really does encapsulate how airheaded these shock jocks really are and Popstar conveys that message perfectly.

The "Head" light is a clear jab at those Daft Punk fellas.

If there were one area the film could have tried a little harder it would have to be in the story department. The idea of a music group breaking up, going down their own paths and ultimately reuniting at the end is a little tired to say the least. While Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone make for fairly relatable personalities, their journey is just a bit too predictable and ultimately not very interesting. Just about the only real twist to the formula is when it is revealed what kind of farmer Lawrence really is which was a rather clever misdirect, but everything else leading up to the group's inevitable return will leave most viewers disinterested during all the pre-fabricated moments devised to keep them apart. In many ways it is like a romantic comedy where we know that no matter what the guy and girl will be together at the end and for a film filled with so much comic inspiration it is sort of a let down that they fell asleep at the wheel when it came to the script.

Popstar isn't going to work for everyone. If you don't really care for the mockumentary film style and/or The Lonely Island guys and what they do then it's a safe bet that Popstar isn't meant for you. Some of the songs aren't up to Lonely Island standards of offensiveness and even some of the gags don't work as well as they probably should (everything with the turtle felt a little flat for instance) but for anyone looking for a smart, witty and often times hilarious portrait of the pop music scene there is really no way to go wrong with Popstar. Keep your expectations leveled and you should come away with some well earned laughs.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Despite having a modest enough budget, Popstar feels smaller than it should and in actuality might play better on the smaller screen. So don't feel too bad if you miss it during its theatrical run because you will likely get the exact same hysterical experience at home later on, but if you get the chance don't hesitate to see one of this years best comedies.

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