Popstar has Spinal Tap’s Laughs, Not It’s Viciousness

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a mockumentary focusing on a vapid performer of popular music. Inevitably, it is going to be compared to Rob Reiner’s masterful This is Spinal Tap (1984) and, for the most part, Popstar does not suffer in the comparison. This is “The Lonely Island Movie;” written by comedy‐songwriting dynamos Andy Samberg, Akiva Shaffer, and Jorma Taccone and directed by Shaffer and Taccone, the trio who created some of the most iconic sketches of Saturday Night Live’s recent history now have the shot at a feature and they do not blow the opportunity. Popstar is a funny, often very funny, movie.

The brilliance of The Lonely Island is their ability to create comic songs that sound remarkably like the genre they parody without being direct parodies of individual tunes. They are able to ape the sound and attitude of popular music with deadly accuracy, creating hilarious pop tunes with a remarkably rich sound. With Popstar, they have created character to match, the titular Conner‐4‐Real (Samberg), who reflects the image and attitude of the modern pop sensation (bombastic stage shows, false soulfulness and modesty, an army of paid sycophants, oversharing on social media) without skewering any particular performer (though his look is clearly inspired by one particular Canadian import). In the lead, Samberg knocks it out of the park, as do Shaffer and Taccone as Conner’s former bandmates, one of whom, Owen (Taccone), has stayed on as Conner’s DJ as the star went solo, the other, Laurence (Shaffer), who has left the music business to take up the solitary life of a farmer. The rest of the cast is populated with a murderer’s row of comics and musicians, popping in for roles big and small; standing out are comedy stalwarts Tim Meadows and Sarah Silverman as Conner’s manager and publicist, respectively. Giving away who plays whom elsewhere in the film would give away the jokes. While the music and the lead character are spot‐on satire, Popstar does not imitate the documentary look and feel with the same uncanny accuracy as Spinal Tap. In some scenes there are just a few too many cameras capturing the action, and few too many cuts. More single‐takes are called for. Still, the staging of musical performances are fantastic and, it can not be said enough, hilarious, perfectly capturing the over‐the‐top‐ness of modern, hyper‐produced, pop shows.

The other area in which Popstar falls short of Spinal Tap is that it does not have the same teeth. Where the earlier film went for the jugular in attacking the idiotic self‐importance of heavy metal musicians, the latter film feels is more tender toward its subject. The film only nods toward the cultural appropriation of which performers like Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and Justin Bieber have, mostly accurately, been accused when it should more thoroughly call it out. The scene in which Popstar does show its greatest edge is in Conner’s single “Equal Rights” in which he calls for the legalization of (already legalized) same‐sex marriage, while repeatedly insisting that he himself is not gay. It’s a great sequence and one wishes that the rest of the film would mirror the viciousness with which it attacks the insincerity of self‐serious pop musicians.

This is Spinal Tap is a perfect film, it’s unfair to compare Popstar to it. Popstar is not a perfect film, but it is a very funny movie. The film is economic, wrapping up in under an hour‐and‐a‐half, hinting at a wealth of material to be discovered upon its home video release. With songs and performances this funny, Popstar would be worth a watch even if the time spent between songs were unwatchable. As it is, the film is just shy of being great. It’s good enough want more.


Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Universal Pictures)

Director: Akiva Shaffer, Jorma Taccone Writer: Andy Samberg, Akiva Shaffer, Jorma Taccone Producer: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman, Andy Samberg, Akiva Shaffer, Jorma Taccone Cinematographer: Brandon Trost Editor: Jamie Gross, Stacey Schroeder, Zene Baker Starring: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Shaffer, Tim Meadows, Sarah Silverman, Joan Cusack, Imogen Poots, Maya Rudolph. English/R/86 min.

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