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Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

April 10th, 2017
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In Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Andy Samberg stars as Conner Friel.  Conner used to be “Kid Conner” in a popular three-person group, the Style Boyz, along with Lawrence “Kid Brain” Dunn (Akiva Schaffer) and Owen “Kid Contact” Bouchard (Jorma Taccone).  But the group broke up, and while two of the boys faded into obscurity, Andy Samberg’s “Kid Conner” morphed himself into Conner4Real and became a global superstar.  But while Conner is on the top of the world at the start of the film, as you can imagine, things are about to come crashing down around the ears of the oblivious, self-absorbed and self-obsessed superstar.

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This film didn’t make much of an impact when it was released this year, but I thought it was terrific.  This is Spinal Tap is the first and last word on fake, funny music documentaries, but Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping finds a lot of places to mine for big laughs in this parody of modern pop silliness.

I’m not that familiar with the Lonely Island team, but all three members do great work here in this film.  Andy Samberg has demonstrated his movie-star chops in films like Celeste and Jesse Forever, and these days he is doing fantastic work every week on the terrific Brooklyn 99.  He’s effortless in bringing Conner to life.  Mr. Samberg is incredibly skilled at playing charming and self-absorbed, and his comedic timing is incredible.  I was less familiar with the other two members of the Lonely Island team, but both Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone do absolutely terrific work.  They’re both so funny and so invested in their characters.  All three men have an extraordinary chemistry together, and Popstar works as well as it does because of the wonderful rapport that the three leads have with one another.  It’s a pleasure to see them on screen together.

Beyond the three leads, there is a wealth of spectacular comedic actors who appear in supporting roles.  This film’s cast is a king’s ransom of riches.  Tim Meadows is slyly hysterical as Conner’s manager, while Sarah Silverman plays it very deadpan as Conner’s publicist.  Bill Hader gets big laughs in a few small scenes as a bumbling roadie.  The great Joan Cusack only has a few moments as Conner’s mom, but boy is it great to see her on-screen as always.  Imogen Poots is fun as Conner’s girlfriend Wednesday, and Justin Timberlake kills as Conner’s chef.  Will Arnett, Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Kevin Nealon, Mike Birbiglia, Chelsea Peretti, and many other familiar faces pop up throughout the film.

Then there are also a million famous faces from the music world who all appear as themselves.  Snoop Dogg, Questlove, RZA, 50 Cent, Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, Usher, Carrie Underwood, Mariah Carrie, and many more all appear as interview subjects in the film’s faux documentary about Conner.  Not only do they add an air of authenticity to the film — a sense of reality that allows the jokes to land that much more effectively — but they’re also all so funny.  I have to highlight in particular Seal, who is great in a crazy sequence involving a wedding proposal and a pack of wild wolves, and Ringo Starr who has one of the film’s best lines.

The film has a number of great fake songs, created for Conner and the Style Boyz at various points in their careers.  Listening to these very funny fake pop songs reminded me of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek.  Indeed, both Popstar and Get Him to the Greek tell the story of a pompous and pampered superstar musician who is undone by a failed attempt at a song with a social action message.  Conner’s terrible “Equal Rights” song (“not gay”) is hilarious.  I also really loved “I’m so Humble,” “Mona Lisa,” and the Bin Laden song.  However, I will comment that the film’s one weak point is that there’s not much of a difference between Conner’s terrible songs that were huge hits and beloved by the masses and the music world, and his terrible songs that crashed and burned.  They’re all pretty terrible!  (Hilariously funny, but terrible.)  So there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance in the story, because the songs that were, in the story of the film, supposed to be failures sound to my ear just like the songs that were supposed to be great.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is by no means a groundbreaking comedy.  This mockumentary covers well-trod ground.  But while it might not be especially innovative, it’s very well-made and very, very funny.  I’m glad I caught it.

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