The comedy trio known affectionately as “The Lonely Island”—Bay Area natives Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone—burst onto the pop-culture scene ten years ago when the three childhood friends were hired by Saturday Night Live at the same time. Their popular “Digital Shorts” video segments, mostly musical in nature, began dropping on a weekly basis and coincided with the rise of YouTube (and the coveted “viral video” moniker).
The Lonely Island crew’s first feature film, 2007’s comedy Hot Rod, was a box office flop and made critics wonder if the humor (and cinematic talents) of Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone were better suited for the short-form content they clearly excelled at.
But fast-forward a decade, give the boys a few more opportunities to hone their movie-making skills, add in a producer like Judd Apatow, and the end result is the wildly funny, bitingly satirical POPSTAR: Never Stop Never Stopping.
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Rated a “hard R” for language and content, this raunchy, irreverent film is part Spinal Tap and part send-up of “candid” celebrity-driven documentaries like Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never. Also, it’s really, really funny.
The premise is simple: Samberg’s character (Conner Friel) is the lead singer of a popular boy band named The Style Boyz (think: Beastie Boys meets *NSYNC) whose ego gets the best of him and he decides to go solo and leave his friends behind. After finding impressive initial success with his debut album, Conner’s popularity plummets when his second record flops and a string of embarrassing, cringe-worthy PR debacles leave him Public Enemy Number One. Conner has to dig deep, re-connect with his roots, and learn the important lesson that it takes a village to be a successful Pop Star.
This film will not be for everyone, but the brutally honest critique of modern celebrity culture offered up within its eighty-six-minutes is as refreshing as it is hilarious.
For example, Conner Friel—who changes his name to Conner4Real after going solo from The Style Boyz—is a social media whore of the highest order. His obsession with sharing every waking second of his day with his fans on Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, etc. reaches the point where even he is left questioning why anyone would want to see such mundane (or in some cases, inappropriately intimate) things. We shouldn’t care what type of toothpaste he uses. We don’t need to know that he just completed a successful bowel movement.
And yet, as POPSTAR points out to its audience, no one is making us watch. We are active participants in the mind-numbing pointlessness of such self-indulgent celebrity navel-gazing. Ironically, the thing that makes Conner4Real finally put down the selfie stick and get back to making music with his friends is when people stop caring about his social media posts. Conner realizes that his hype had outpaced his talent and true love—creating art with his pals.
Another worthwhile bit of social commentary in POPSTAR comes when Conner4Real decides to release a single explicitly intended to show the world just how socially conscious he truly is. In the same vein of Macklemore’s gay rights tune, “Same Love,” Conner drops an anti-discrimination anthem of his own called “Equal Rights (feat. P!nk).” Hoping to capitalize on the media and public’s good will and be seen as a cultural hero without having to investigate (or even understand) the issue, Conner’s lyrics are more about how he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s gay just because he’s singing/rapping about why gay people should be allowed to marry.
Whether he intended to or not, Samberg’s take on pop star social conscience-mongering is a pitch-perfect send up of what most of us are thinking when a blowhard like Bruce Springsteen or Madonna starts lecturing the rest of us about anything from minimum wage laws to the death of a gorilla at a zoo in Ohio. For Andy Samberg and his creative team to be willing to poke fun at people who consider themselves “brave” for piling into an echo chamber is, well, brave.
Better yet, it’s funny.