Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

June 12, 2016 at 7:14 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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Early in his SNL career, Andy Samberg may not have seemed like a star player but with 2009’s “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box,” he showed a remarkable ability to riff on popular culture using his own variations on pop music. Under his goofy exterior, Samberg has a keen eye for social commentary and that’s what elevates this film beyond bland parody. Samberg, who also co-wrote the script and songs, stars as Conner4Real, an international pop star, who seems to be very loosely based on some combination of the two Justins (Timberlake & Bieber). The film is at its best in its first half, as it is establishing the various characters. It’s during that part of the story, that we get the most biting and clever commentary about modern society. Samberg and co-writers, Akiva Shaffer and Jorma Taccone, brilliantly skewer everything from self-involved pop divas (yes, that was Mariah Carey making fun of herself) to artistic pretension (in a brilliant take on Mackelmore’s “One Love”). Stage moms, groupies, twerking, naked Justin Bieber & social media’s obsession with his penis size, Daft Punk, a brilliant send up of TMZ, and so many other things get sliced and diced along the way. And, as always seems to be the case with films that make fun of the industry, artists by the drove appear in this one, if for no other reason that to prove that they are in on the joke (check out the tags at the top of this post if you want a sense of the sheer volume of stars who made appearances, however brief, though part of the fun was in being surprised by a cameo). Much of the film was a cascade of one sly pop culture reference after another from across the generations: you may not catch the parody of Drake’s catch phrases but you’ll probably get the brilliant skewering of U2’s Apple album giveaway debacle; if the A$AP Rocky reference slips by, you’ll catch the Muppets joke, for sure. This relentless barrage is part of the film’s charm. The unfortunate thing is that it isn’t sustainable. At some point, the story had to have an arc and, inevitably, it slipped from biting to sentimental. The latter part of the film felt more like Samberg’s “Brooklyn 99” than an SNL skit. That is to say it was goofy sweet fun, with the emphasis on sweet. It still had its laughs but they were softer as the film led toward its feel-good ending. Samberg, Shaffer and Taccone are childhood friends, who were all born and raised in Berkeley, CA. Their characters in the film are also childhood friends who have a falling out after one of them (Samberg) becomes far more famous than the other two. Perhaps, there was some autobiography getting worked out just under the surface. If so, fair enough. But, whatever the cause, the bite was mostly gone by the time the credits rolled. This is, perhaps, where this movie does not reach the level of a “Spinal Tap,” to which it has been compared. Both are insightful parodies of the music industry in their generations but the humor in “Popstar” is wrapped in a candy-coating. It may be a little easier to swallow but I suspect it won’t linger as long.

 

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