Director: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone Runtime: 87 minutes
Its almost impossible for Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping to avoid comparisons with This Is Spinal Tap, the benchmark of musical mockumentary. When Spinal Tap was shown to the kind of rock stars it was lampooning, they sat stone-faced, with the likes of Steven Tyler saying “everything that happened in that movie happened to me.” Its hard to say whether the vacuous pop stars sent up by Lonely Island crew Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone would have the same reaction, either because the events of Popstar are so cartoony or because the real life antics of Bieber and co are even cartoonier. Still, Popstar comes closer to Spinal Tap’s level (eleven of course) than most.
Samberg plays idiot pop sensation Conner 4Real (Conner Friel), a Frankenstein’s monster of Justins Bieber and Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Macklemore. After becoming the break out member of boy band and childhood friends The Style Boyz, Conner’s hilariously titled solo debut Thriller put him top of the pops, but his follow up is flopping and he doesn’t know how to handle it.
Conner’s self-centeredness knows no bounds, whether he’s sharing absolutely every aspect of his life with fans on social media or singing a song about how humble he is. He surpasses even U2’s hubris by signing a deal with an appliance company so that when you open your fridge, microwave or other household appliance his album plays automatically. He’s already alienated former Style Boy Laurence so much that he quit music to live on a farm, while third member Owen is being marginalised from band mate to DJ, to guy pressing play on an iTunes mix, to guy pressing play on an iTunes mix while his ludicrous Deadmau5 style helmet gives him neck problems. Conner is surrounded by yes men and fans, but they’re all ready to drop him at the first sign of adversity. Popstar is usually happy to be silly rather than biting, but its very accurate in showing the bubble that celebrities live in and how eager the people who blew it in the first place are to pop it (Its take on TMZ is a particular highlight).
The sketch comedy stylings of Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone (the latter two play Laurence and Owen respectively while also directing) comes through in the way the film hyperactively throws jokes at the wall to see what sticks. The songs, crucially, are more hit than miss, ranging from a Macklemore spoof that wants a pat on the back calling for equality while Conner insists that he’s not gay, to a surreal song that gets tangled in its metaphor comparing freaky sex to the assassination of Bin Laden. Inevitably at this pace some of the jokes are duds. Imogen Poots is wasted as Conner’s fame obsessed girlfriend and the parade of celebrity cameos may be accurate to the puff piece ‘documentaries’ Popstar is based on, but they bloat the film with talking heads of people without great comedic timing. There are times when it feels like the film is holding back on its Hollywood pals. It’s hard to make fun of JT when he’s right next to you, in on the joke. The plot is generic enough that it can be sussed entirely within the opening minutes, as if a Style Boyz reunion were in any doubt. But there are enough stinging barbs among the frat bro jabs to give Popstar some insight and a film as joke dense as this one is destined for cult status. Think of it more as a fun underground act than an overnight sensation.