Movie Review - Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
By Ben Gruchow
June 8, 2016
By all reason and logic, this should be an absolute traffic jam of a film: an artist biography film and mockumentary crossed with a concert film, one that is an honest simulacrum of all these subgenres while simultaneously spoofing the characters, the plot beats, and the industry, which is populated both by actors and musicians playing characters and actors and musicians playing themselves. Just typing that seems like it would equate to cacophony. On top of this, it hits the ground running and fires through the satire and story and musical numbers at such velocity, it's a minor miracle that we don't get whiplash.
It’s a shaggy piece of work, made up of almost nothing but rough edges, and yet it works; part of this is because it’s funny, part of it is because the observations about both the music industry and the artist-biography format are often sharper than expected, and part of it is because there’s something of an actual, solid bedrock underpinning the character relationships. There’s a discipline to the movie’s timing and chemistry and interaction that anchors a lot of the sillier stuff, and there’s even a kind of sweetness to the pervading outlook; the movie lands a lot of zingers, but it’s never mean-spirited or gross.
The biography-film and mockumentary aspects tell us about The Style Boyz, consisting of Owen (Jorma Taccone), Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), and Conner (Andy Samberg). The Boyz are reminiscent of the flood of boy bands from the mid- to late-1990s; Conner, I guess, is the Justin Timberlake of the group: when a breakup occurs, he becomes a solo artist, with Owen continuing on as his DJ, under the act Conner4Real. The bulk of Popstar centers around the fallout from the disastrous release of Conner4Real’s sophomore album, Connquest, in which Conner discards the contributions of Owen (clearly the more musically talented of the two) and assembles the material himself. The album is critically panned in advance of release, and they plan to hype the launch with the dubious sponsorship of appliance manufacturer Aquaspin (their entire product lineup will have the ability to play Connquest when opened or powered on; the result to this scheme is one of the movie’s best out-of-nowhere punchlines, bested slightly by a following exchange consisting largely of audio).
Much of this setup and development occurs against a dizzying backdrop of cameos and guest turns by the actors we expect to show up in a film like this, and some we don’t (Joan Cusack as Conner’s mother provides a nice comic jolt that dissipates a little bit as we realize that her 30-second appearance is about all we’re going to get). The people we see much more of are Sarah Silverman as Conner’s publicist Paula, Imogen Poots as his girlfriend Ashley, Tim Meadows as his manager, and Chris Redd as Hunter the Hungry, an upstart rapper that Conner’s team brings on to open for him and prop up flagging album sales and public opinion.