“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”
1 hours, 26 minutes
The mockumentary genre, while rich with possibility, is kind of a minefield. Satire is difficult as it is – the ability to intelligently skewer a subject without slipping into outright mockery is as much a skill as an art. Mockumentaries, wherein the entire film apes the real-life, journalistic style of a documentary, add another layer of difficulty. Even Christopher Guest, who might be considered the master of the genre with classics like “Waiting for Guffman,” and “Best in Show,” stumbles occasionally with flops like “For Your Consideration.” Still, when it’s done right, a mockumentary can be a lot of fun. While it doesn’t reach the gleeful heights of “This is Spinal Tap,” this week’s takedown of the music business, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” has some really funny moments and, at the very least, never falls apart.
Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, collectively known as The Lonely Island, form the trio at the core of “Popstar,” a fictionalized tale of a 90s boyband known as Style Boyz who break up when Conner (Samberg) is offered a solo career. Owen (Taccone) sticks with Conner, now sporting the suffix “4 Real,” acting as his touring DJ, whereas Lawrence (Schaffer), the songwriter of the bunch, retires in bitterness to a hardscrabble farm. Conner’s first album is monumentally successful, but with success comes the pressure to top it the next time around. Conner pulls out all the stops for his se-cond album, but finds out that bigger isn’t always better. Our hero finds himself in free-fall, making more and more desperate decisions to try and correct his rapid descent.
“Popstar” is definitely a hit and miss kind of movie, but luckily, the misses are far between and the hits land pretty well. Peppered with actual celebrity cameos from the music world, “Popstar” features appearances from everyone from Ringo Starr to Simon Cowell to Mariah Carey. There are also plenty of actual actors in the film, which offers fine performances from Samberg and co., as well as Tim Meadows, Sarah Silverman, Justin Timberlake, Maya Rudolph and Joan Cusack.
One of the things I liked best about this film is its resistance to simply reveling in Conner 4 Real’s madcap meltdown. Sure, much of the desperation is funny, such as when he decides to get some pos-itive buzz by proposing to his girlfriend at an elaborate ceremony featuring appearances by live wolves and pop legend Seal. When the wolves begin to go crazy at the sound of Seal’s warbling, they escape their handlers and attack the press, ensuring headlines that weren’t exactly what Conner was hoping for. That episode gets pretty bad, but the movie as a whole is hopeful and sweet, two adjectives I wasn’t ex-pecting considering the current crop of gross out R-rated comedies. The theme of the movie is the im-portance of friendship, and Samberg and crew don’t play it ironically or cynical in any way. Turns out Conner 4 Real is just a dimwitted doofus, not the arrogant jerk you’d imagine. I wonder if The Lonely Island, happy-go-lucky hip hop impresarios that they are, have a similarly optimistic view of Hollywood and the LA music scene. The typical villains in a film like this would be the manager and the publicist, but Meadows and Silverman, respectively, act more as surrogate parents than self-interested schemers. If there is a villain, it would be up-and-coming rap star Hunter, played with a vaguely unhinged quality by Chris Redd. In a little “All About Eve,” action, Conner befriends and mentors Hunter, only to see the younger star completely usurp him.
“Popstar” is fun and, as I said, sweet and optimistic at the end, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s definitely an R-rated comedy. The film is rife with language, initially to great effect as the Style Boyz destroy a wedding gig early in their career. Also problematic is the fact that the language isn’t just gratuitous, but also pretty sexually explicit. That doesn’t keep it from being funny, but if you’re not ready for it, it could be off-putting. Naturally, the film pushes the envelope with nudity, and since somehow Hollywood has decided that full-frontal male nudity is the comedy go-to, “Popstar” is wall-to wall with it. Also, just so you can’t say you weren’t warned, there’re several scenes of a turtle vomiting. FYI.
Even though “Popstar” fits neatly into the current trend of gross-out comedies, it has a sweet op-timism born of childhood friendship and honest love of music. Fans of movies like “Neighbors” or “Step Brothers,” will find plenty to like, but unlike those films, “Popstar” doesn’t leave you with a dim view of humanity. Grade: B
“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is rated R for pervasive language and nudity.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.