CINEMA SECOND CHANCES: 'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping'
Written by Kevin Donaldson
It’s a shame when really great movies fall through the cracks of audience reception, but that’s why nature made VHS tapes and DVDs and Blu-rays. Today, thanks to Blu-ray, I’m giving a much-needed second chance to a movie that ended up completely missing in theaters -- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Because I was too busy at the time to see it, or any other movies at the time, in cinemas.
When this Lonely Island flick starring Andy Samberg came out, it did not do well in theaters. The group’s first effort, Hot Rod, also didn’t perform that great at the box office, but even before that was released, Samberg saw it happen. In interviews, he said how he thought that, in ten years, that movie’s humor would be more accepted and do pretty well on video. Less than ten years later, it’s considered a cult classic with terrible reviews on Rotten Tomatoes but a pretty devoted fanbase that loves it. Popstar, however, had much more behind it to make it a big movie. It had a higher budget, the Judd Apatow Producer Stamp of Approval™, a certified fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and, of course, crazy A-list celebrity cameos! Even box office success Neighbors 2 backed out of going against Popstar opening weekend in fear of the competition. For one reason or another, however, Popstar failed, and upon viewing it myself, it just doesn’t make sense.
Popstar is a mockumentary spoofing popstar-driven documentaries like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Katy Perry: Part of Me, as well as satirizing popular music and artists from the past 20 years and today. Samberg plays the main character and subject of the mockumentary, Conner Friel AKA Conner4Real, one of the world’s biggest recording artists who appears to have never evolved past the young age from he was first discovered. By his side is his DJ/childhood friend/former band mate in New Kids on the Block-style boy band called The Style Boyz, Owen (played by real-life friend and Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone). The movie explores Conner’s relationship with fame, money, and the friendship as the third member of The Style Boyz, Lawrence (played by Lonely Island member and the film’s director Akiva Schaffer), has a falling out with Conner after he gets no recognition for writing a breakout hit for Conner that launches his solo career. This is where the heart of the movie comes in.
While the movie has a lot to say about the shallowness of fame, celebrity culture, stupid trends, and the ridiculousness of pop music, it really is about these guys and their friendship. While watching it, however, I couldn’t help but feel something of a meta type of story unfolding. In real life, The Lonely Island set out to do things together -- and they have -- but along the way, Samberg has been the face of the operation and done more solo stuff as a result. When Samberg was first cast on “SNL”, he brought Schaffer and Taccone with him and they wrote sketches and digital shorts together for the show. I’m not saying that The Lonely Island have a strained relationship, but some issues involving that has probably come up in the past, and it feels like that's likely been incorporated into this movie. It’s an interesting thing to watch, because while this is a dopey comedy, the falling out between Conner and Lawrence feels more realistic and meta than anything else in the movie.
Aside from that, the film plays a lot with stereotypes of today's music landscape, from the trends to specific things artists have done. Conner seems to be a Justin Bieber type in a lot of ways, and his actions even mirror a lot of what Bieber has done in real life and come under scrutiny for. But, being that this is The Lonely Island, Conner’s music is much more rap-based, which is why there are elements of Mackelmore wrapped up in Conner that come out heavy-handed in the song “Equal Rights”.
And that brings me to another great thing about this movie -- The Lonely Island recorded a whole album just for this movie. Most of them made it to the final cut but those that didn’t are still worth a listen, as they’re incredibly hilarious, and even use total autotune at some point because that’s a trend that never ceases to make me laugh. (Fun fact: autotune was made specifically for Cher’s 1998 song “Believe”. Future and T-Pain can thank her for that.)
Popstar is out on video now. Go rent it however you rent stuff these days and see what you think. I have to say, though, I really loved this movie, and if anything good comes from it, hopefully the TMZ parodies they do can become an Adult Swim show someday. No matter what else anybody I’ve talked to thinks about this movie thinks of it, they all seemed to agree on the TMZ stuff, so look out for that!