Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

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Whether he's Kid Conner or Conner4Real, Conner Friel was born to make music.  Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is the backstage look at the rise of Conner and the people he's left behind.  The Lonely Island wrote, stars, and directs Popstar.

Your mileage will vary, but the boys of The Lonely Island - Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone - were a blessing for the internet because their humor works well in three to four-minute bursts.  They start a song, get some basic jokes in, throw in a big twist, and end on as high a note as possible.  Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Popstar moving forward) shows they're talented but the same approach that works at three minutes grows tiring at a feature-length run.

Culture is also moving so fast now that whatever trends Popstar mocked barely over a year ago have been replaced by manic horror.  We can seriously have discussions about whether the idiot occupying the office of President of the United States has a piss-filled sex video.  Popstar's jokes about appliances playing music were out of date as of 2016.  Now it's harder than ever to celebrate the over-the-top success of three white boys who are decently good at imitating musical genres while being excellent comedians.

Musical numbers are a mixed bag of success and failure, but some of the smaller jabs at popstars going for social commentary work well.

The jokes about the excess of pop music are fine starts but lack good punchlines.  An early performance of Conner (Samberg) culminates in holographic celebrity cameos replicating themselves all over the stage while they engage in some good-natured fully clothed dry humping.  The intellectual part of me goes, "Hrm, this is a nice display of pop music's close relationship with technology," while the part of me that wants to laugh sighs and thinks, "This is reality now, we can bring dead artists back to 'life.'"  Popstar's satirical calculus is safe and, while it would be in questionable taste, bringing - say - Freddie Mercury back in hologram form would result in more transgressive humor than Adam Levine.

Popstar acknowledges there's a line when it comes to commercializing the satirical music of Conner and frustratingly tiptoes around it.  Sometimes it's offensive without being funny at all, like when Conner's crew responds enthusiastically to the music-playing appliances and the screenplay deploys the n-word in both a soft a and hard r.  This movie was written by three white boys, and having one character saying, "Going with the hard r," is acknowledging the use without doing anything funny with it.  Being self-aware about this kind of language doesn't absolve The Lonely Island from writing it.

The same disappointment can be leveled at the songs which are painful and lazy.  The pain comes from tunes like, "Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)," where a woman gradually puts on clothes to look like Osama Bin Laden while telling Conner to fuck her like the US government fucked Bin Laden.  There is no moment in Popstar that practically begged for more stunned reaction shots than this one, and the official music video plays the humor better by having Samberg at least react to the request with the level of disbelief it inspires.  The lazy is in "Turn Up The Beef," that became successful in Popstar's world because Conner sings the chorus with every junk catchphrase he could cram in.  This might have been more successful in a world without "We Didn't Start the Fire," but it exists and it's hard to top what's already the pinnacle of dumb lyrics.

The Daft Punk-esque robotic death beam helmet Conner forces his DJ to wear is also good for a chuckle.

Where Popstar works is in skewering the faux-"woke" nature of activist songwriting.  Conner's "Equal Rights" is a plea to treat folks of all stripes equally but jarringly cuts back to Conner taking every opportunity to remind the listeners he's not gay and jumping on a pile of women in their underwear.  Both the sudden cuts and Samberg's forceful singing of, "Not gay," are jarring reminders that privilege works to preserve itself even when claiming to be for others.  The casual homophobia also centers in a hilarious scene where Conner is fine with signing butt cracks and breasts of his women fans, but when a man's penis is shoved against the window for an autograph he gets uncomfortable.  That's a fine enough payoff, but when the screeching starts as the penis rubs up against the lowering window I lost it.

The biggest problem with Popstar is the boys of The Lonely Island are big successes now.  It's hard to mock the very system you're part of without getting some distance from your surroundings.  Summoning predominantly PoC musicians to talk about your own brilliance, satirical or not, is the sort of thing we already expect from popstars who are full of themselves.  Popstar isn't so far gone that there aren't some joys in-between the rough bits, but it's a sure sign that The Lonely Island's gag has run out of its novelty.

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Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone.
Screenplay written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone.
Starring Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone.

Posted by Andrew

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