DIR: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone • WRI: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone • PRO: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Craig Alpert, Jamie Gross, Stacey Schroeder • DES: Jon Billington • MUS: Matthew Compton • CAST: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping marks the third attempt by Judd Apatow to produce a successful musical comedy and he should just give up. His first attempt still remains his best, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which was funny when it remembered it was a parody of the musical biopic, and I doubt anyone remembers Get Him to the Greek. This time it’s The Lonely Island’s attempt to poke fun at the music industry, which would seem promising considering their music already accomplishes that goal. What the comedy rap group have made instead, however, is their equivalent to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s UHF. But somehow even less funny.
Do you remember the only dull, slow period of This is Spinal Tap when Nigel Tufnel leaves the band? Popstar made an 87-minute movie around that entire section. Andy Samberg, the most recognisable of The Lonely Island, plays Connor4Real, whose ego leads him to focus on a solo career that falls apart over the course of his world tour when his latest album fails to catch public attention. It’s odd to have a Lonely Island film where the trio remain separate for 70 minutes of it but how exactly can anyone make a plot which centres around The Lonely Island. Their comedy derives from lyrically parodying the narcissism of pop music and the stupidity of bro-styled club anthems (their most famous is still probably “Jizz In My Pants”) and that comedy remains present throughout the early sections of the mockumentary. The song “Finest Girl,” about a kinky woman who requests “fuck me like we fucked Bin Laden,” is the most discussed moment and funniest song in Popstar but is performed much more effectively in the promotional music video that’s free to watch on YouTube.
The problem of Popstar is its inability to frame its comedy around making fun of the pop industry. Many of the jokes are aimless and recycled bits about smoking weed or just nonsensical for the sake of being random and unpredictable. When it does focus on music, the jokes are softball digs at an industry ripe for mocking. There’s no fun had at the sorry excuses to appear edgy and offensive by the likes of Miley Cyrus in a desperate attempt to look relevant. Nor at the vanity and pretence of high-brow sophistication which motivates Jay-Z to associate himself with Marina Abramović and performance art. Instead, there are jokes about how pop musicians are terrible at making social and political songs (a joke better achieved by Russell Brand in his rendition of “African Child (Trapped in Me)” from Get Him to the Greek). A minor joke about how music is made through an overwhelming amount of collaborative producers to sell records feels hypocritical in a film that packs more cameos than jokes in order for the movie to sell. Will Arnett features in painfully unfunny TMZ parodies ingeniously renamed CMZ, and it’s almost impossible to tell if Mariah Carey was paid to look annoyed or if she’s sleeping through her five seconds on camera.
Popstar simply doesn’t go far enough. Connor4Real is an unlikable protagonist but The Lonely Island forget that his repugnance is exactly the point. His complete lack of relatability should make for comedy but they desperately try to make Connor sympathetic in a way that feels less mocking of the generic attempts to pull a viewer’s heartstrings as other reality TV/documentaries about musicians are oft to do and more out of sheer laziness. Even the mockumentary aspect itself often feels forgotten through many of the scenes which, personally, I’m willing to bet was only used for a single joke/Snoop Dogg cameo. Popstar is a frustratingly bad comedy because it had so much potential but wastes it for a cheap laugh and gags like Justin Timberlake in a fish suit.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is released 26th August 2016