Running Time: 1hr 27min
MPAA Rating: R
Lonely Island’s wickedly funny mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stoppingisn’t about Justin Bieber.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s definitely more than a touch of the Biebs (and Jon M. Chu’s 2011 doc about him, Never Say Never) to Conner4Real, the massively famous pop rapper played by Andy Samberg, from the hair to the tattoos to the tendencies to act out. But there’s also a hefty helping of Christopher Guest’s magnificent rock idiot Nigel Tufnel, and a whiff of One Direction, and some early Beastie Boys. There’s a little Macklemore thrown in as well, especially when Conner releases a godawful single in support of (already legal) gay marriage peppered with frequent reminders that he himself is thoroughly hetero. No, Conner isn’t a parody of a particular star so much as he’s part of a dead-on spoof of the nature of extreme, but quick to evaporate, contemporary celebrity.
With sycophants assuring him his every move is brilliant and fans faving his every online overshare at first, Conner has no reason to doubt that everything he sings, tweets, or poops out is gold. He’s a creature spawned in a vat of positive feedback, until he releases his second album and is faced with a fall from grace that Popstardocuments in adoringly biting detail, as Conner’s record sales never catch fire, but his hoverboard definitely does.
His tour becomes dependent on his sociopathic, Tyler, the Creator–esque opening act Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd); his actor girlfriend (Imogen Poots) may or may not want out of their maybe-a-PR-stunt of a relationship; and Owen (Jorma Taccone), one of the members of Conner’s former group the Style Boyz, is finally starting to chafe at his demotion to Conner’s DJ, especially when he’s made to wear a helmet onstage that even Daft Punk would shake their space-suited heads at.
Conner is no longer on top of the world, and he’s bewildered and stricken by how quickly his followers turn on him. Samberg is puppyishly amusing throughout Popstaras it traces an arc of downfall and redemption — Conner is the kind of doofus he does best, one whose bad moments are always due to immaturity rather than maliciousness.
Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, who also plays the third of the former Style Boyz, co-directed Popstar off a script they wrote with Samberg. The film is packed with expertly awful original songs and quick riffs, as well as longer set pieces that, even when they feel loose (like the one with Seal and some wolves), are laugh-out-loud good.
But it’s in the vicious cycle of celebrity and schadenfreude that the otherwise genialPopstar finds its edge. Conner goes from adored to out of fashion so quickly, he barely has room to rationalize the brutal reviews and angry internet comments coming his way, and the film cuts in slices of his increasingly unflattering media coverage as he goes from personage to pariah. Popstar is never better than when in its own TMZ-inspired newsroom, with Will Arnett as a Harvey Levin–type presiding over Eric André, Mike Birbiglia, and Chelsea Peretti as his staff. As they dish and sip on increasingly giant cups of soda, they seem like occultists cackling over a human sacrifice.
It turns out rising from fame and falling from it make for equally good material.
– Alison Willmore