Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Review

Posted: December 11, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

popstar poster.jpgWritten by Daniel Simpson

Earlier this year, I watched with detachment and moderate disappointment when the movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping became a box-office bomb. I mean, I didn’t bother to go see it either so I guess I didn’t care that much, but the idea of a modern Spinal Tap focused on the modern pop industry seemed a pretty solid comedy presence and I also tend to like The Lonely Island. As far as 2016’s major comedies go, Popstar actually seemed among one of the more promising entries, though it’s largely been a weak year for comedies so I guess that isn’t saying much. In any event I did look forward to catching up with Popstar when it hit my local library, though now that I have, I get why it didn’t exactly light the world on fire.

The film takes the form of a documentary revolving around the fictional Conner 4 Real (Andy Samburg), an ignorant and arrogant popstar whose music is entirely vapid nonsense. Conner started as a member of a pop trio called The Style Boyz but had a falling out with band member Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer). Conner has now gone solo, tapping other Style Boyz member Owen (Jorma Taccone) to be his DJ. Conner’s first solo album was a big hit and Conner is all set to drop his sophomore effort. The film picks up at the height of Conner’s fame and hubris, but as his new album and tour begins to fail, Conner begins to rethink his career.

That Popstar is trying to be a modern This is Spinal Tap is pretty obvious. Not only does the film follow a clueless musician at the decline of their popularity, but the film’s mockumentary format and interest in internal conflict within bands is taken right out of Rob Reiner’s comedy classic. Popstar also has a similar ending to Spinal Tap and the two also share certain scenes, like ones of the artist reading terrible reviews of their work. I don’t think This is Spinal Tap is allowed to be the only comic mockumentary about the music business, but that is a very specific formula and as such comparisons are inevitable. The thing is, I don’t think Popstar is nearly as effective a satire of the modern pop music scene as Spinal Tap is a satire of the 80s rock/Metal scene. The core difference is while much of Spinal Tap’s music is objectively kind of bad, I still believed the band could exist in real life. Their songs, though often dumb and satirical of the scene, still felt like real songs. That just isn’t the case with Conner 4 Real. While songs like “I’m So Humble” and “Equal Rights” (the latter advocates for equality for gay people while Conner frequently points that he isn’t gay) make obvious satirical points about modern pop music, they’re also too obvious to really work as a film. It’s hard to imagine any of his songs actually being successful or liked by any audience in a non-ironic way. That’s a problem given the film clearly suggests that Conner’s audience genuinely likes his music and goes a step further employing cameos musicians ranging from Pharrel Williams to 50 Cent to Ringo Starr, all of which speak highly of Conner.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike these songs as many of them are, in isolation, pretty funny. The problem is they’re too over the top to really be believable within the world of the film. This not only diminishes the satire, but also the story. A huge part of the film is the notion that Conner’s decision to go solo was ill-advised and Style Boyz was ultimately stronger together. The problem is Style Boyz’ music is every bit as stupid as Conner 4 Real’s and trying to hype the group as some sort of triumph feels false. Still, this is a movie that’s going for laughs above all else and that really is the most important aspect of Popstar. So is the film funny? Um, kind of. There are some decent laughs to be found here. As mentioned, some of the songs are amusing enough. I was particularly pleased with a track called “Finest Girl”, about a lady who, and a quote, wanted to be fucked, “like the U.S. military fucked Bin Laden”. That’s such an absurd idea I can’t help but laugh. Outside of that, there isn’t really much. I thought some of the supporting work from folks like Bill Hader and Eric Andre was kind of amusing, but both are so minor they’re basically cameos. A lot of the bigger gags fell flat for me and I didn’t find the main cast all that funny either apart from a few off-hand lines.

Immediately after watching it, I considered Popstar a letdown and while I broadly still think that, the movie has stuck with me a bit better than I expected. While it isn’t as funny as I would have hoped, songs like “Finest Girl” and “Equal Rights” have stuck with me. I’m still not sure if I’d really recommend it when something like This is Spinal Tap is a wholly superior music mockumentary and when the music of The Lonely Island or Jon Lajoie serves as effective pop satire, but if you find yourself really needing a mockery of pop music, I suppose you could do worse.


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