Synopsis – When it becomes clear that his solo album is a failure, a former boy band member does everything in his power to maintain his celebrity status.
My Take – Being a fan of Andy Samberg, this film seemed appealing right from the time the first trailer dropped. Promoted as a mockumentry on the show business, this film, when you really get down to it, is a film version of Andy Samberg‘s parody band Lonely Island. Though comedic, Lonely Island has generated real hits, real concerts, and has even been nominated for an academy award. Andy Samberg clearly understands the world he comes from, as he makes some sharp criticism about the music industry. You might be thinking that the mockumentary genre was out played by now. Probably, I would have agreed to that, that is of course before I watched this comedy. The humor that the boys of the Lonely Island have concocted is not only completely fresh and well thought-out, but will prove to be ahead of its time some day. The Lonely Island have made their brand by successfully fusing political incorrectness, awkwardness and silliness. And the trio has taken it to the next level here. They have such a tight grasp on not only what’s funny, but what’s topical and realistic–making everything that happens in this movie feel like it could actually happen–or is actually happening. While a tad predictable, the film never tries to be any other film. So many times have we seen American comedies give their best shot at shamefully replicating–or reinventing–a Judd Apatow/Adam McKay/Todd Phillips/Seth Rogen style of comedy, and lose their own vision. But these guys take their own vision and have their way with it.
Samberg and the Lonely Island have influenced comedy a lot in the past decade or so. And now they’re changing the rules all over again. The mockumentary follows the fictional band Style Boyz and their frontman Conner Friel (Andy Samberg). Conner is a musical prodigy and has always counted on his friends to support his dreams. After years of working together and making a mark on the charts, they break up when one of the members Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) is not given credit for a song nor is even thanked when Conner wins an award for it. His other friend Owen (Jorma Taccone) stays on and moves into the background as Conner’s DJ, while Conner reinvents himself as a Justin Bieber-like singer called “Conner4Real”. His first album Thriller, Also is a hit and advances him to massive stardom. His ego (and low intelligence) pushes him to make reckless choices and surrounds himself with yes-men who only encourage more bad ideas. Even though his second album Connquest is met with critical bashing he attempts to continue a world tour with opening act rapper Hunter the Hungry starting to gain more popularity than it’s main star. With deceit all round him, he decides to quit. This is arguably one of the most savagely entertaining music industry satire to come out in the last few years. While constantly focused on the low-hanging fruit of celebrity personal branding, product-placement, reality TV inspired banality and faux savoir- faire worldliness, audiences can’t help but respond with heaps of constant laughter. The laughter becomes louder when The Lonely Island crew cuts deep into Hollywood’s insincere sanctimony and egoism such as when Conner releases “Same Love” inspired “Equal Rights” which reiterates Conner heterosexuality one too many times. Despite how much fun the movie is though, someone is sure to take offense to some of this movie’s more assertive jokes. The best movies about show business are usually done as mockumentaries. Somehow, the style feels more real when ironically, nothing about the characters are real themselves. A lot of it comes down that the people making the mockumentary probably understand the most about troubles and tribulation on what goes on behind the curtain. They know that the biggest stars are the craziest people around. They’ve figured out how unforgiving that show business world can be. They especially know how hard life can still be with the fame (or without it). Though there are plenty of regular feature films that have parodied the show business world fine enough, the mockumentary style somehow makes it look more unsentimental. The film’s plot also allows for opportunities to jab at Hollywood stars, who enjoy a few too many benefits due to their status. I can’t tell you how many times I smiled when they threw a celebrity under the bus, or parodied an incident that some dopey star has done in the past.
You know that what is being done is stupid, and Samberg‘s overacted antics only make it more ridiculous. But it’s satisfying to hear someone bash a celebrity for acting so juvenile. Andy Samberg co-wrote this film with his compatriots Jorma Taccone (who co-stars) and Akiva Schaffer (who co-stars and directs) grew up on Saturday Night Live and this film has the feel of a variety of sketches tied together, fairly successfully, into a film. Samberg brings the right amount of cluelessness, selfishness and charm to the role of Connor which gives us a character that we can root for and against. He is ably assisted by co-stars Schaffer and Taccone as well as a litany of comedy and musical guest stars – mostly in cameos. The likes of Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Sarah Silverman, Imogen Poots, Will Forte, Martin Sheen, Tim Meadows, Joan Cusack, Will Arnett and Kevin Nealon all join in on the fun as well as musical stalwarts Carrie Underwood, Usher, Snoop Dogg, Akon, Michael Bolton, 50 Cent, Ringo Starr, Simon Cowell, Adam Levine, Seal, Pink, Arcade Fire, Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey, to name just a few. They all come on the screen with great energy and play along just right. As funny as the jokes are, I’ll admit that it does start to run out of steam sooner then it should. Though running short at an hour and twenty minutes, it still felt way longer then it should be. Perhaps if we saw some more fake musicians that Conner is up against, we might have seen some justification to go on longer. Sometimes the acting itself goes too far into the overacting territory. One certainly sees the SNL roots at times, particularly in Samberg‘s moments of overemotional whining or screaming. Some may like this silly style of acting, but when it is drawn out, well that’s when I lose interest. Even the supporting actors trail in this territory, but fortunately the writing bails them out and we move on with the film. There are even a few stunts that didn’t fit well into the movie, depriving the more emotional parts by hamming it up with a cheesy interlude. Fortunately, much of these weaker parts are short-lived and the low running time only further helps. Yet with the sheer amount of visual humor, clever dialogue, goofy- comic setups and a richly layered meta-text, you can’t help but enjoy a movie so crudely and gleefully nutty (in more ways than one). The musical interludes are boat loads of fun; Lonely Island‘s “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” being the real showstopper. Andy Sandberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone are clearly at the top of their game and with any luck, still have a few more witty tunes to churn out in the future. On the whole, ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ is an enjoyable satire of the music industry which is both funny & witty. Among the pool of comedies coming out, this film deserves a chance. Well maybe not on the big screen but definitely in the comforts of your home.