The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

The “mockumentary” format has been executed many times since the seminal This Is Spinal Tap was released in 1984. Still, it's a format that can be effectively – and stingingly – done. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is the debut feature film from The Lonely Island, a trio of comedians (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) who created some of the most memorable Saturday Night Live digital shorts and have released several popular comedy/music CDs. (Remember Dick in a Box? That's them.) They use the mockumentary style to offer up a pitch-perfect spoof of both the modern-day music scene and a social media-obsessed culture that believes you only have worth if everyone's watching your every move.

Samberg plays Conner4Real, a Justin Bieber-esque pop singer with an entourage full of sycophants. He used to belong to a boy band with his best friends, but his ego got too big and he went solo. Fellow bandmate Owen (Taccone) is now his DJ, although that entails little more than wearing a robot helmet and pushing play on an iPod. Lawrence (Schaffer) left showbiz to become a farmer; it's clear that he still resents Conner for taking credit for the lyrics he wrote. The “documentary” follows Conner as he releases the follow-up to his wildly successful first album. The new one suffers from poor reviews and weak sales, leading him to try a variety of tricks designed to keep him in the limelight. They include getting a hot new Tyler the Creator-type rapper named Hunter (Chris Redd) to open for him and staging an elaborate marriage proposal to girlfriend Ashley (Imogen Poots) in front of the media.

Popstar has a lot of fun satirizing contemporary music. Conner's style could best be described as “whatever is popular right this second.” It's a mix of pop, R&B, hip-hop, and EDM. Most of his songs are fascinating in both their incoherence and cluelessness. One of the funniest is an R&B slow jam that favorably compares a sexual encounter to the U.S. military's assassination of Osama bin Laden. Another argues for marriage equality while offering repeated subliminal protestations that Conner is “not gay.” (It should be noted that all the song parodies in the movie are spot-on.) The film additionally mocks the ego that often accompanies celebrity. Conner lacks a filter and a conscience. He believes that his fame entitles him to say or do whatever he pleases, without repercussion. A particularly big laugh comes from a short bit inspired by Justin Bieber's ill-fated visit to the Anne Frank House that, to paraphrase Spinal Tap, turns the scenario up to eleven.

That would be enough for most comedies. Popstar goes a step further by also ridiculing the very desire for fame that seems to have permeated our society. It drives Conner crazy that he's not as big as he once was. Consequently, he spends more time focusing on ways to get media attention than he does in making good music. Some of his antics make you laugh riotously due to the way they mix outlandishness with a healthy dose of truth. The film paints Conner as a guy who feels the compulsive need to share everything with his social media followers, no matter how mundane or inappropriate it may be. Very incisively, Popstar suggests that such things can become addictive. When you want everybody to pay attention to everything you do, the really noteworthy stuff becomes lost in the shuffle.

Popstar makes fun of it all: the incessant unlikely musical collaborations (wait until you see who Conner joins forces with in the end), the way singers often take credit for songs they didn't actually write, the absurdity of massive entourages, selling out to corporations, bizarre demands from fans, and more. Hysterical celebrity cameos help to sell the documentary illusion, while also providing another layer of comedy. The ratio of jokes-per-minute is impressively high.

Pop stars are different today than they used to be. The need to preserve one's image when TMZ, Us Weekly, and the entire internet are watching looms menacingly. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping points out the ridiculousness of it all in a no-holds-barred manner that generates continual, heavy laughter.

( 1/2 out of four)

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is rated R for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.

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