SNL comedians have a rocky history at the movies: from the sketches turned into films that inevitably flop, to the actors themselves failing to translate into movie stars (with a few notable exceptions, of course). The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer) have already experienced big screen failure with Hot Rod (2007), but are taking another stab at the big screen with a pop star parody in Popstar: Never Stop Stopping.
Andy Samberg stars as Conner4Real, a Justin Bieber-esque musician filming a documentary about his life as a superstar (ala Justin Bieber: Never Say Never; Katy Perry: Part of Me; One Direction: This Is Us). Conner is a breakout star that left his former boyband behind (Taccone and Schaffer) to pursue a solo career and has blown up the charts with his first album. He’s now in familiar territory to anyone who follows pop music or celebrity: he’s surrounded by yes-men, he thinks anything he does will be received with glory and accolades, he’s constantly trying to outdo himself with bigger and weirder statements, he’s destined to come crashing down from the top of the charts. And he does.
A series of unfortunate career mishaps (a U2 inspired album release strategy forcing his music into people’s homes, a Macklemore inspired gay rights ballad, interspersed with “no homo,” released after gay marriage is already legalized) send Conner into a tailspin, which ultimately leads to apologies and reconciliation with his former bandmates.
But you don’t go to a music mockumentary for the emotional resolution, now do you? While the story of the Style Boyz’ friendship is sweet and ties the film together, audiences sat down at Popstar: Never Stop Stopping to see nonstop jokes and a searing send-up of the music industry. It’s on these two pillars that Popstar pretty much succeeds. The jokes are flying at any given moment of the film, with music parodies (the Bin Laden song goes hard) and celebrity cameos (Questlove, Ringo Starr, Mariah Carey), but many of the celebrity inspired moments don’t go as far as they could. Emma Stone puts in about five minutes as a Gaga/Katy Perry type pop star, who is never mentioned again. Imogen Poots briefly appears as a generic teen actress in a PR relationship with Conner – where is the bite to that bit? Many of the modern pop stars that The Lonely Island claim to be parodying are absent – wouldn’t a Selena/Justin parody work here? Where are the likes of the Mileys, Demis and Arianas of the scene? – and instead the references and send-ups skew slightly older: The Style Boyz are a Beastie Boys type group, and Justin Timberlake, Seal and P!nk all cameo. The best exception to this is Conner’s new tourmate Hunter the Hungry, a Tyler the Creator inspired edgy young rapper who’s either crazy or just trying to appear that way. That’s the type of reference I was expecting more of – it’s a little more pointed towards the current crop of musicians. Conner and the Style Boyz could easily be a story from the 90s or 2000s, but Hunter is 100% of today’s world.
Overall, it’s a successful film. The laughs don’t stop (especially during the TMZ parody with Will Arnett, Chelsea Perreti and Eric Andre), the music is hilarious and catchy and you’ll leave the theatre satisfied. I only wish Popstar: Never Stop Stopping had a little more teeth.