The Lonely Island’s debut film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, feels like a natural extension of the comic music group’s style. What you’ve liked from their music videos and SNL Digital Shorts now has a plot and characters to carry us through a delightfully absurd look at musician ego and vanity. While the songs are just as catchy and well produced as fans have come to expect from the group, Popstar moves the trio forward with a nice tale about friends learning to forgive each other. It also involves songs like a woman wanting to be fucked like the U.S. military fucked Osama Bin Laden.
Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) used to be part of the rap group Style Boyz, but was able to spin off into a successful solo career. The other two members, Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), respond to Conner’s success in very different ways. Owen goes along to get along and becomes Owen’s DJ even though his job only involves pressing play on an iPod whereas Lawrence, who wrote the songs that made Conner a hit, has decided to become a farmer who’s bitter over never receiving the recognition he felt he deserved. When Connor’s highly anticipated second album, CONNquest, flops, he starts spiraling and looking for ways to reclaim his fading fame.
The mockumentary style will most likely cause flashbacks to This Is Spinal Tap, and Popstar is a worthy relative to that classic comedy. Whereas Spinal Tap explored the rock lifestyle of the 1980s, Popstar relishes the present vapidity of the pop music world. It pulls liberally from films like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never but even if you’ve never seen those lovingly produced pop-star tribute films, you’ll recognize the flavoring. The movie indulges Connor’s vanity from the get-go with his hit song “I’m So Humble” and the silliness explodes from there.
It’s not surprising that The Lonely Island is so funny and that they can conjure up some catchy tracks to boot. What is surprising is that there’s a heartfelt friendship story at the center of Popstar. It’s not particularly deep or revelatory, but it gives the movie an emotional pulse that really compliments the irreverence on display when you have songs where they call the Mona Lisa “an overrated piece of shit.” It helps that the Samberg, Taccone, and Schaffer are friends in real life to help sell the tension in the trio’s relationship, and it has us rooting for the Style Boyz and slightly relishing Conner’s solo downfall.
Special credit also has to go to Chris Redd, who plays Conner’s opening act Hunter. This is a film where everyone gets to shine, but Redd is a standout playing a raw, unpredictable nerve in the movie where his insanity seems primed to go off at any moment, and his crazy eyes are equal parts hilarious and terrifying. He’s a perfect foil for Conner and helps further the main character’s insecurities.
There are moments where Popstar never full clicks and jokes run on for far too long, but more often than not, the movie will make you laugh until you cry. It’s insightful, catchy, and poppy in all the right ways and it will have you humming its raunchy tunes as you exit the theater.