Review: Popstar: Never Stop Stopping

Review: Popstar: Never Stop Stopping

Popstar: Never Stop Stopping looked terrible. The film I imagined upon seeing the trailer would have been some stale collection of bits better suited for YouTube than the silver screen. I expected some lame attempt at low-brow comedy with little that resembled a message. Instead, Popstar is a refreshingly self-aware, timely and thoughtful mockumentary with a clear point of view. It is also just funny, which makes it hard not to enjoy. 

 Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

This is the second feature film from The Lonely Island, the comedy trio that wrote, directed and starred in the film. Their leader, Andy Samberg, plays Conner Friel (a.k.a. Conner4Real), the one-time frontman of the fictional rap trio ("The Style Boyz") in the film. Conner's solo success and some of the accompanying 'diva' behavior cause friction between he and his former band mates, Owen and Lawrence.

Owen (played by Jorma Taccone) serves as Conner's DJ once he goes solo. Conner diminishes his role time and time again in hilarious fashion. Lawrence (played by Avika Schaffer) left show business for a rural life after Conner refused to give him credit for writing his music. This is the backdrop for this exploration of modern fame. The movie skewers everyone from Macklemore to Justin Bieber. It even takes aim at the celebrities who star in it, either as themselves or as characters. Justin Timberlake, DJ Khaled, Usher, Simon Cowell and Mariah Carey are just a few of the famous faces that pop up to help jokes land. 

 Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The film moves so quickly from one joke to the next that it is hard not to find humor in at least some of it. If the physical humor of one scene is not for you, then perhaps the TMZ parody in the next will be. The film works best when it is firing in all directions, but there is such variance in the jokes that nothing ever feels stale or repeated. There are small appearances by some of the funniest actors working today in Sarah Silverman, Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph, who all elevate bit parts with their impeccable timing. 

The most surprising thing about Popstar is the humanity it gets out of its characters. It will make you consider the fleeting nature of fame and the very real human beings who experience it. Whether it is disappointing album sales or someone else's star rising to replace your own, it elicits empathy throughout. The juxtaposition of the commoditization of Conner next to his own desire for more paints a very real picture of celebrity. Yes, seeing Conner's disappointment when his career goes south is sad, but seeing the ways in which he tries to turn things around makes it hard to feel truly sorry for him. This is the same paradox one feels when you pity a celebrity swarmed by paparazzi, but have that pity suppressed upon seeing their antics the next week to attract the paparazzi again. 

 Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

If the film has a weakness, it is in the low-hanging nature of its targets. It hits them very well, of course, but that's at least in part due to the fact that celebrity-dome and everything that surrounds is stupid. The vapid culture it skewers is always ripe for the picking. That it does so in an entertaining fashion, however, makes it hard to knock it too much for this. 

With a Rated-R tag, the audience that might appreciate the subject matter most is left out. References to Bieber's antics at the Anne Frank's house, for instance, might be lost on some of the older members of the audience, but the overall message shouldn't be. Fame is fleeting and people are people. Those feel universal enough to reach just about anyone who has ever watched someone get too big for their own good and the redemption that follows is timeless. 

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