I legitimately think it’s one of the most exciting things in the world to be there at the beginning of a cult comedy. To hear the uneven laughter of the crowd as an underlayer to your own riotous guffawing is a unique theatergoing experience. To know that there are going to be years you’re making references to it to a number of blank stares. To know that it’s going to be a friendship test for years to come.
It’s a long way to say welcome to the comedy cult canon Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping!
Popstar is the first film from SNL sketch comedy geniuses/viral video stars The Lonely Island, which consists of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaeffer. A pop mockumentary in the Spinal Tap vein, this riff on Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never as well as Justin Timberlake (who of course is cameoing in this film) follows self-absorbed pop superstar Conner Friel, also known as Conner4real (Andy Samberg). Conner rose to fame as a member of boy band the Style Boyz, alongside his friends Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaeffer), but the band broke up when Conner became the breakout star. Popstar joins Conner on the eve of the release of his second album, Connquest.
It does not go well for him.
First things first is to address is the oft-repeated idea that this movie is swinging at low-hanging fruit. Which, you can’t deny. The world of the pop star and the vapid societal obsession with said world isn’t exactly an innovative area, and it’s not like The Lonely Island haven’t spent time going after it before.
On the other hand, there’s not a whole lot of original stories to tell at this point anyway. It’s the quality and specificity with which The Lonely Island manage to nail the world of pop music and this specific kind of documentary that makes this one stand alongside Walk Hard and This Is Spinal Tap.
There’s not a moment or joke that rings false, and even if it did, the jokes and the details come so fast that you don’t have time to process ones that don’t work. Every joke is used to fill out the world and every detail adds in. It isn’t just the big setpieces, like a wardrobe malfunction that makes it appear that Conner is smoother than a Ken doll. It’s the little jokes, like the apocalyptic news playing in the background when they’re discussing the aforementioned incident and how that news is quickly overtaken.
It’s also the details of Popstar that show how deeply The Lonely Island know the world they’re parodying. Their intense knowledge of pop and hip-hop has always informed their song parodies, and it certainly helps in crafting songs for Popstar that are full-on catchy in addition to be hilarious. Seriously, Finest Girl may be one of the greatest comedy songs…ever, funny and the most extreme kind of earworm. Which is unfortunate considering…
She wanted to fuck me harder than the US government fucked Bin Laden
But take something also like Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), a young rapper that serves as Conner’s opener on his tour and eventually an antagonist who seems out to take Conner’s fame. He’s a parody of Tyler the Creator that’s played almost damned near straight. Not only does Chris Redd kill it, perfectly playing the kind of wide-eyed insanity that Tyler cultivates, but The Lonely Island composes a couple songs for Hunter that sound like B-sides off an Odd Future album. Seriously, put “Hunter the Hungry Gon’ Eat” on Goblin and I don’t see a need to question.
Or Conner’s first single off his new album, “Equal Rights.” An anthem for LGBT marriage equality that quickly devolves into Conner trying desperately to prove his heterosexuality. It works as parody, making fun of the Mackelmore whiff “Same Love,” and it works as a character bit, not only in Conner and his gay panic but also in the fact that he’s too oblivious to realize gay marriage is legal.
Popstar is full of these bits that are not only riotously funny, but build a rich, specific tapestry of the music world. And more importantly, a personal tapestry. Popstar isn’t just based on Bieber and Timberlake, but seemingly based on The Lonely Island themselves. Samberg was always the bigger and performative personality, with Jorma and Akiva staying behind the scenes but building the look and the style of the band and their videos. That dynamic seems infused and it turns Popstar into a film where The Lonely Island are really working through their issues in front of us.
That working through gives Popstar a remarkable amount of personality and heart, the core of any good cult classic comedy. You’re laughing your ass off, sure. But you really do care about the three guys at the core of the film and it helps drive you through the weirdness and the out-there jokes and helps give it some grounding in a world. And it makes it feel absolutely unique, because no one else could have told the story that Popstar told.
It’s a mockumentary and a damn good one. But it’s also a personal story grounded in a loving view of the story it’s telling. It doesn’t want to mock the world mean-spiritedly, the same way that Walk The Line was kind of admiring towards the ridiculousness of music biopics or This is Spinal Tap was towards the rock bands it was parodying.
But honestly, just watch this:
You already bought your ticket, right? DAMN RIGHT YOU DID.