I can’t imagine a better Lonely Island movie than Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Everything that works about the musical comedy trio of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone is operating on overdrive here, from the obvious chemistry that the trio have as long time friends to the satire of the self-important pop culture attitude. If you’ve heard “I’m On a Boat,” you’ll know exactly the kind of hilariously narcissistic nonsense that Popstar has in store.
Popstar is styled as a mockumentary about the ups and downs of musical artist Conner4Real (Samberg), and the friends he left behind in the group that made him famous, The Style Boyz. While Style Boy DJ Owen (Taccone) has followed Conner into his solo act, his creative input has tapered off to nothing. Style Boy lyricist Lawrence (Schaffer) has retired to farming after Conner took credit for the words that made him famous. Years of being the most charming Style Boy have gone to Conner’s head, and after a successful first solo album (which heavily relied on beats and words from his former colleagues), Conner4Real’s self importance has him ready for a fall.
Watching Conner’s self implosion is amusing as hell. Songs on his new album include pro-gay rights anthem “Equal Rights”, in which Conner consistently insists that he’s “not gay”, and “Mona Lisa”, who he calls “the original basic bitch”. The film has snappy editing and clips along at a wonderful pace. Not a single comedy bit overstays its welcome, and the amount of laughs delivered during the film’s brisk, 86-minute running time felt refreshing. The humor never rose beyond The Lonely Island’s traditional SNL flavored shtick, but it also never disappointed.
But Popstar is, surprisingly, much better than just a functional comedy. The plot is actually really well implemented. The characters, in their heightened ridiculousness, all feel like authentic members of the world they live in. Despite his arrogance, Conner is likable, and his arc is meaningful. Supporting members of his entourage are given a surprising amount of depth as well. Conner’s manager, Harry (Tim Meadows), is given a backstory that speaks volumes about both the uncertainty of life and the fickle nature of the business. He’s lived as the victim of the kind of artistic betrayal that Conner has committed, and while he’s just trying to keep business going, it’s obvious that he wants more, artistically and emotionally. The premise of Popstar is that no man is an island (Lonely or otherwise), that pride separates us from the people we love and prevents them from helping us to be the best version of ourselves. It’s a pretty loaded message for an SNL styled comedy, and it’s sold incredibly well by the chemistry of The Lonely Island performers. These three doofuses are meant to be together, and it hurts to see them so out of sync.
The film is also incredibly well shot. Despite aping a made-for-tv documentary style, Popstar looks cinematic. The larger-than-life feel of Conner4Real’s concerts pop dramatically on the big screen, and the ridiculous lyrics of his catchy tunes play even better on a massive theatrical audio system. This is a rare comedy that will likely play better in the theater than on Netflix, which is a shame considering its so far incredibly poor box office performance.
If you’re not familiar with The Lonely Island, it’s time to peek out from that rock you’re living under and acquaint yourself. If you’re a fan, you owe it to yourself, and this creative trio, to head to the theater for a riotous good time. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping deserves a status as more than just another weird Andy Samberg-driven cult classic. It’s big. It’s funny. It’s full of amazingly well-placed pop culture cameos. It’s even kind of deep. Go see it!