Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: Lonely No Longer, by Ian Brill
For those that may have followed Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer – who work as a group called The Lonely Island – from Channel 101, to SNL, to their albums, and now their first branded feature (let’s say Hot Rod doesn’t count as a true TLI product), Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping feels like a triumph. It is the ultimate version of their comedic point-of-view. In Conner4Real (a.k.a. Conner Friel), Samberg gets to explore the silliness in oblivious confidence, the cornerstone of TLI’s humor. While the mockumentary may owe a lot to Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, it updates the satire for the 21st Century, and is full of enough great ideas to count as its own experience.
Conner4Real is ostensibly a parody of Justin Bieber, with some Macklemore thrown in. Popstar follows the launch of his second solo album and ensuing world tour, but the true storyline concerns Conner4Real’s reconciliation with his past in a hip-hop trio called the Style Boyz, which is something like License to Ill-era Beastie Boys and 90s boy band LFO. One of his bandmates, played by co-director Taccone, is now his DJ, while another, played by co-director Schaffer, has put the music industry behind him to become a farmer. It’s a fairly simple story, and the film never lets the plot get in the way of big laughs. Every time the plot pivots, a comedic set piece is also brewing. Some are ingenious, such was when Conner4Real and his manager Harry (Tim Meadows) ask for the cameras to stop filming, leading to an over-the-top audio-only sequence. Later, an emotional reunion of the Style Boyz is derailed by a Conner4Real fan’s penis (a below-the-belt cameo from producer Judd Apatow), in a scene that will sure to get a reaction, of some kind, out of the audience.
The mockumentary approach allows the film to be much more “sketch-friendly” than a traditional narrative film. But these sketches get so much out of the concept, the momentum never dies down. The songs themselves will delight fans of TLI’s big hits like “Dick in a Box” and “Jizzed in my Pants,” but the commitment to a character’s idiotic and childlike outlook may remind longtime TLI fans of their older material, such as 2002’s “Stork Patrol.” The song that marks the film climax (featuring a celebrity cameo familiar to those who know TLI’s SNL career) is a particularly surreal epic that draws a connection between TLI’s earliest material and their song for The Lego Movie, “Everything is Awesome.”
While the film may be TLI’s moment in the spotlight, they give plenty of room to the supporting cast. In particular, newcomer Chris Redd impresses as Conner4Real’s opening act Hungry the Hunter, a Tyler the Creator-esque rapper who proves to be strong competition for Conner4Real. Redd is also playing undue confidence, but tinged with a mania and viciousness that never curbs a real sense of charisma. The film is packed with both comedy greats from SNL (Meadows, Sarah Silverman, Kevin Nealon) as well as actual music stars appearing as talking heads, praising Conner4Real. All of them approach their roles with the right amount of deadpan. “Kiss from a Rose” singer Seal gets a much larger and integral cameo, and delivers a great and truly committed performance. From the world of comedians, a TMZ parody featuring Will Arnett, Chelsea Peretti, Eric Andre, and Mike Birbiglia, goes after an easy target but with such aplomb, and a touch of the grotesque, that what could be a cliché becomes one of the high points of the film.
Popstar is one of the films that arises from sharp minds with sketch comedy backgrounds, overflowing with ideas. TLI found the right pace for such an endeavor, and gave us one of the best comedies of the year.