Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Directors: Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone
Writers: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone.
Cast: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Bill Hader, Chelsea Peretti, Emma Stone, Eric André, Joan Cusack, Justin Timberlake, Kevin Nealon, Maya Rudolph, Mike Birbiglia, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Will Arnett, Will Forte, A$AP Rocky, Adam Levine, Akon, Arcade Fire, Big Boi, Carrie Underwood, Danger Mouse, DJ Khaled, Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey, Mario Lopez, Martin Sheen, Michael Bolton, Nas, Pharrell Williams, P!nk, Questlove, Ringo Starr, The Roots, RZA, Seal, Simon Cowell, Snoop Dogg, T.I., Usher, 50 Cent.

I am a big fan of the comedy of The Lonely Island. Back when Andy Samberg was a cast member on SNL and Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone were writers on the show, they managed to make an impact building on their brand of music videos with high production values but hilariously ridiculous lyrics. Everything started with “Lazy Sunday” and gained momentum culminating the the pop-culture defining moments that brought us “Dick in a Box”. From that point on there were highs (“Mother Lover“, “Jack Sparrow“, “Jizz in My Pants“, “I’m on a Boat“) and a few lows and forgettable ones (“The Creep” or “Boombox“) – but, in my opinion, there were much more highs than lows (I haven’t even mentioned the hilarious “I Just Had Sex” or “Go Kindergarten“). Did I mention I was a fan?

So when it turned out that The Lonely Island boys had made a film, a pop mockumentary with songs and videos, I knew I had to see it. I’m not sure the film was entirely successful, all that funny, made sense as a coherent and completed film, but I also know that I didn’t hate it completely.

The story follows Conner4Real (Samberg), a former member of a boy band named The Style Boyz, who has gone solo and has reached pop music superstardom. The mockumentary begins on the eve of the debut of Conner’s second album, the follow up to the record-breaking first album. The lead single is a song about how gay marriage is and should be a completely acceptable lifestyle choice, in spite of the fact that it has been legal for a year at this point and the fact that Conner must declare his heterosexuality after, before, and in between every single lyric. Obviously we are supposed to think about Macklemore and the fact that in his hit song “Same Love” he felt the need to announce his heterosexuality in the very first verse, in which he thought he was gay because he liked to draw (!!!), and only realized he was straight because his mother pointed out that he was really (really really really, like, seriously you guys, really) into girls and liked baseball (seriously, people, he is straight).

Shocking nobody, Conner’s single and album don’t match expectations and his tour is struggling. An opening act is brought on to improve sales and Conner continues down the bad-boy trajectory he has been racing towards, while ignoring, belittling, and forgetting those who helped him reach his stardom in the first place (including his former and disgruntled band members). The film is extremely paint-by-numbers predictable and there are no shocks or twists at any point throughout. It’s your classic rags to riches to rags to riches VH1 Behind the Music tale of fame lost then regained. We, as an audience, are meant to connect the storyline to the real-life inspirations, especially (besides Macklemore) Justin Bieber (the tattoos, the weird pet, the bratty antics… ok, it’s a movie about Justin Bieber).

Some of the songs really work, especially one titled “Finest Girl“, which really ranks high up there with some of the best Lonely Island sketches. In the song, Conner recounts how he was getting down with a hottie and her requests to be treated in the bedroom like Osama Bin Laden was treated by the American military really freaks the singer out. It’s magical for all the wrong/right cringeworthy reasons. Pretty much the one hilarious moment in the entire film.

The cast is also a head-turner/head-scratcher. Aside from the three writer/directors who make up the Style Boyz, there are only two main actors: Tim Meadows as Conner’s manager and Sarah Silverman as his publicist. Peppered throughout is a veritable who’s who of famous singers and musicians that provide commentary over the life events of Conner (very interesting fact is that the majority of them are black and state how fundamental and groundbreaking The Style Boyz -reminiscent of The Beastie Boys, also three white dudes- were to the history of rap music.) Aside from these famous folks playing themselves, we have a collection of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, mostly made up of comedians, that pop up for a few seconds, only to never be seen again. From Conner’s mother (Joan Cusack), to the tour caterer (Justin Timberlake), or Will Arnett (playing a version of a smarmy TMZ reporter), you get the idea that they only show up in the film as a favor to their friends, because there is no other reason for them to be in the film.

The final result is an uneven mishmash of feel good triumph of friendship movie and just an opportunity for three best friends to have fun making a film together. Was it fun to watch? At times. But it really needed One Direction. The film wasn’t really *NSYNC.

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