Friday, June 3, 2016

Fame, Skewered: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping




This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

When I saw Judd Apatow was a producer of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a mockumentary that basically got its start as a series of Lonely Island shorts on Saturday Night Live, I was afraid he'd once again produce a comedy that stretches way beyond the breaking point; no one needs to see two-and-a-half-hours of Andy Samberg. But thankfully Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping actually does stop, and right when it should.

Samberg stars as pop sensation Conner4Real, who got his start with two high school friends in the Style Boyz, a teenage trio resembling a mash-up of the Beastie Boys and any number of boy bands. Conner becomes a break-out star, resulting in the break-up of the Boyz, with lyricist Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer, also co-director), leaving showbiz for good to go work on a Colorado farm, and Owen (Jorma Taccone, the other director), becoming Conner's on-stage DJ, (although even he admits he doesn't do much more then press "play" on an iPod).

The mockumentary follows the build-up to the release of Conner's second album, Connquest, and his subsequent world tour, which doesn't go as planned once the album's sales tank. (Pitchfork gives the record negative four stars, while Rolling Stone skips the stars all together, rating it a simple smiling shit emoji.)

Unsurprisingly, the story arc owes a lot to the best faux music doc ever made, This Is Spinal Tap, featuring the rise, fall, and redemption of an iconic music group. But in the years since that film's release, it's become harder to tell the musical mockumentaries from the real thing. Anyone who's seen Katy Perry: Part of Me, or Justin Bieber: Never Say Never can attest to that, and the influence of both are clearly evident throughout Popstar. (It's also telling that neither Perry or Bieber make an appearance as themselves in the film, while plenty of other pop stars, including Nas, Questlove, Carrie Underwood, and, most hilariously, Mariah Carey, do.)

Popstar is packed with jokes, gags, and other cameos that might pass you by on first viewing. Bill Hader shows up as the tour's guitar roadie, even though no guitars are used during the show. Maya Rudolph is a brand marketer that comes up with a unique way to get Conner's record into as many homes as possible (it involves household appliances). Will Arnett spoofs TMZ TV and its host, Harvey Levin. And Joan Cusack is Conner's mom, doing on-camera what we all secretly think those stage moms actually do in private.

Tim Meadows is a stand out as Conner's manager, a former member of Tony Toni Toné, back when there was a fourth Tony, who had a question mark at the end of his name. And Sarah Silverman totally slays as his publicist, a woman who understands Conner's music might not be everyone's cup of tea, but "it makes so much money for so many people."

I also have to applaud Apatow for once again recognizing the comedic possibilities inherent in the prolonged sight of a naked penis on screen. Pressed against glass. And getting an autograph.

I find musical comedians up there with prop comics: A genre of comedy that too often makes me want to run out of the room screaming. And while I've liked some of the Lonely Island videos a lot — I mean, how can you not love Dick in a Box? — I was glad to see Popstar go beyond just the funny songs to skewering the current states of fame and pop music as a whole. It's clear the Lonely Island guys sincerely love the entertainment they're parodying; you have to in order to do it well.

And that I'm So Humble song featuring Adam Levine's hologram really is hella catchy.

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