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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Review

Lonely Island Sings a Funny Tune

Going into "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," I only knew SNL alum Andy Samberg's "The Lonely Island" trio by name and by a few titles of their comedy songs. Satirical and Emmy-winning, I knew they were popular but never really cared to investigate further.

Reviewing "Popstar" is my first real introduction into "The Lonely Island" (I say that having seen 2007's "Hot Rod" and remembering absolutely nothing about it). As a novice to this area of comedy, I had a surprisingly great time with "Popstar." It's giddily stupid and surprisingly self-aware. But it doesn't beg for laughs: it earns them.

Samberg stars as Conner4Real, who was previously a member of a popular boy band called "The Style Boyz," with his two childhood friends, Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), both "Lonely Island" members. The group gains fame and fortune and, like many popular bands, releases that one special song that becomes their signature.

During one performance, tension boils over causing the group to break-up. Conner's star has been on the rise as a solo act, which he pursues outside of "The Style Boyz." Lawrence becomes bitter towards Conner's success and moves into the middle of nowhere to be a farmer, and to master the craft of woodworking.    



"Popstar" is set as a mockumentary, which follows Conner upon the release of his second solo album, which he titled "ConnQuest." He tells us he's a perfectionist, so he worked really hard on this album, and he knows it has to sell more than the last so he can move forward with his career. When his manager Harry (Tim Meadows, who is great in a supporting role) tells him the numbers aren't where they want them to be, Conner begins to spiral.

The trajectory of the story is not unlike any other movie about a singer or band that we've seen before but that's okay - it's kind of the point, actually. "Popstar" doesn't want to be taken seriously as a film and it never gives us a reason to do that. It does, however, rise above its outrageous humor to brilliantly skewer the music industry and the concept of celebrity. The movie never holds back from showing the less favorable sides of Conner's professional, personal and public life. (Just look at Samberg throughout this movie and tell me you don't see a certain YouTube star-turned teen sensation-turned headline grabbing celebrity in every frame.)

Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone, wrote the screenplay for the film, with Schaffer and Taccone directing. This trio, who has been doing musical parodies and comedy for so long through SNL Digital Shorts, have such a fun and comfortable rapport together, and this helps keep the brisk 84-minute film moving along.

The "Lonely Island" team got virtually everyone in the music business to make a cameo as themselves, and even in the smallest bits, everyone is having fun and more than willing to participate. In actual roles, Sarah Silverman plays Conner's publicist and Joan Cusack plays his mother. Neither are given enough to do but get some good laughs in their brief appearances.

As with many projects by SNL alums, "Popstar" does border on feeling like an overlong sketch and shows some signs of wear in the third act. But everything that came before it, is rather consistently funny and it has moments of pure comedy gold. The actual jokes in between the songs are enjoyable, and delivered well, but that's not why you should buy a ticket for this movie. It's the songs that make the movie and will have you splitting your sides with laguhter.

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