Justin Bieber, move over. Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) is the hottest solo act in town.
He had a huge debut solo record, shed his old bandmates like Sting dumped The Police, and is blowing cash faster than MC Hammer in the ’90s, with 32 people on his payroll (including a wolf tamer and unicorn trainer). Conner4Real is on top of the world, and wants you to know it. He’s filming his whole life for a documentary while also recording every mundane thought he has on YouTube and Instagram. Why? Because he’s humble.
“Bar none, I am the most humble-est. Number one at the top of the humble list. My apple crumble is by far the most crumble-est. But I act like it tastes bad outta humbleness,” sings Conner4Real in his hit song I’m so Humble. But things aren’t going to go his way forever, and like they are with all pop stars, the cameras don’t stop when things turn south.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is here to poke fun at the rash of self-indulgent music documentaries over the past few years, like Katy Perry: Part of Me, that One Direction movie, and yes, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Celebrity pop culture has never been dumber, and Conner4Real represents the worst of it. The resulting meta movie is full of laughs, packed with F-bombs, and fun to watch. But if you think you’re going to see satire on par with Christopher Guest classics like This Is Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, you may want to order some miniature bread and make some tiny sandwiches to tide you over. It’s gonna be a long wait.
Unlike Spinal Tap’s biting satire of ’80s rock and roll, which is so sharp the movie can fool you into thinking it’s an actual documentary at times, Popstar quickly devolves into cameos, dick shots, and SNL-level zaniness. There are subtle digs at celebrity indulgence and stars like Taylor Swift, but goofy gags like bringing a wild pack of wolves to a party or making a bong out of a music award account for the real humor here. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good bong.
Outside the bong jokes, the plot of Popstar is eerily similar to the real-life relationship between its three stars: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone. Together, they call themselves The Lonely Island. You may not recognize their name, but you’ve definitely seen some of their Saturday Night Live Digital Shorts, which include Dick in a Box, I Just Had Sex, I’m on a Boat, Lazy Sunday, and Jizz in My Pants, to name a few. The group’s top five music videos have nearly a billion views on YouTube, but much like Conner4Real outshines his old bandmates from The Style Boyz (played by Schaffer and Taccone), Andy Samberg is the one who’s gotten famous from the years of work all three put in at SNL.
It’s hard not to imagine Schaffer and Taccone feeling jealous as Samberg became a huge star on SNL and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the latter of which landed him a Golden Globe. In Popstar, Conner4Real (Samberg) forgets where he came from and belittles the characters Taccone and Schaffer play. In real life, the two of them decided to co-direct a movie about it, and Samberg helped them write the script.
There is a gaping hole in this music movie: It doesn’t have a viral hit song.
The supporting cast includes Tim Meadows as Conner4Real’s manager who was kicked out of Tony! Toni! Toné! because he spelled “Tonee?” with a question mark at the end. There’s also Sarah Silverman as Conner’s publicist, and Bill Hader as a roadie who gets his kicks from “flatlining” (stopping your heart and being resuscitated). The list of cameos is enormous, but here are a few: Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Martin Sheen, Adam Levine, Snoop Dogg, and even the king of musical satire “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Popstar is definitely more consistent and a better parody than The Lonely Island’s last movie, Hot Rod, which follows Samberg as an aspiring motorcycle jumper who believe’s he’s the next Evel Knievel, but can’t even jump a swimming pool. Hot Rod was a cult hit and is a personal favorite, but it also has several scenes that would have been better left on the cutting room floor. Those self-indulgent scenes helped the film flop at the box office in 2007. Luckily, Samberg and company have learned a few lessons since.
Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island mates are a lot more popular than they were nine years ago, and there is definitely love in the comedy, but Popstar may face a similar uphill battle at the box office. For all its comedy and dick shots, there is a gaping hole in this music movie: It doesn’t have a viral hit song. The Lonely Island are creative comedians, but it’s their songs that have made them stars. Unfortunately, the funniest song in Popstar is called Finest Girl about a girl that wants Conner4Real to “f*** me like the U.S. government f***ed Bin Laden.” It’s good for a chuckle, but it also takes a minute to get the punchline. It premiered two weeks ago and has about 2 million views, a far cry from the 75 million views YOLO gained in 2013. Other new videos like I’m So Humble, Mona Lisa, and I’m a Weirdo also aren’t connecting broadly.
It’s a shame. You’d think a movie full of songs by The Lonely Island would have an amazingly hilarious song in it, but most of Popstar’s tunes (and there are many) will induce more smiles than belly laughs — a lot of it sounds like B- and C-rate material, like the Tenacious D movie. Oddly, the band even rolls out their old 2012 song No Homo in the first act, which was only half funny four years ago.
Just how popular can a Lonely Island movie be without a hit song to back it up? We’re about to find out.
I left Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping wishing it boasted sharper satire and relied less on cameos, F-bombs, and forgettable songs. Having said that, and I realize the complete hypocrisy here, I also laughed my ass off. So here’s my advice: if you can keep your expectations in check and just enjoy this film for what it is, Popstar may be one of the funniest movies you see this year. But, unfortunately for those hoping for the next Spinal Tap, this one doesn’t go to 11.