A friend of mine—a wise lady of high repute—once said, with reference to Andy Samberg, “If you don’t like him, you’re just jealous.” To quote another such lady, “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.” Comedy is a delicate and difficult thing, and no matter how good you are at it, you will never please everybody. Full disclosure regarding Andy Samberg: I am a fan. I love Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I love The Lonely Island, and I love his brilliant run on SNL. Needless to say, when I saw the trailer for his latest film, I got excited.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
The Plot: Told in a Spinal Tap-esque mockumentary style, the movie chronicles the highs and lows of international pop sensation Connor For Real (Andy Samberg) after splitting from his hip-hop boy band and going solo. His debut album, Thriller Also, is a monumental success, but he finds his follow-up efforts less than fruitful. As countless publicity stunts backfire in increasing spectacular ways, Connor must contemplate the meanings of success, friendship, and artistic integrity.
Popstar, as a movie, is three things, which I shall present to you and analyze in list form.
- A brilliant satire on the music industry: comedies like this like to blow their budgets on expensive celebrity cameos—or at the very least the lead asks all of his friends to show up for a few scenes each—and this movie is no different. Supporting actors and cameos include Joan Cusack, Seal, 50 Cent, Imogen Poots, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Martin Sheen, Usher, Nas, Ringo Starr, Adam Levine, Simon Cowell, Jimmy Fallon, Will Arnett, Mariah Carey, Chelsea Peretti, Bill Hader, Mario Lopez, RZA, Pharrell Williams, Will Forte, Snoop Dog, Weird Al, Michael Bolton, and Justin Timberlake. Unlike, for example, Anchorman 2 or Zoolander 2, however, Popstar does not waste its celebrity cameos. It’s more like the first Anchorman or the first Zoolander in that respect. It doesn’t throw familiar faces at the audience just for the sake of throwing familiar faces at the audience. Instead, it uses these appearances to make calculated jabs at the music industry, at celebrity culture in general, and at itself.
- The Lonely Island: The Movie: Have y’all ever seen any of The Lonely Island’s music videos or maybe just heard their songs? The band, comprised of Samberg and his buds Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, both of whom are also in this movie, produced such hits as “I’m on a Boat,” “Jack Sparrow,” and “Threw it on the Ground.” They are a comedy music group, and much of Popstar feels like an extended edition of one of their music videos. If you don’t like them, you won’t like their movie; if you do, you will.
There’s a little more to it than that, of course. Popstar tells the story of what happens when one member of a musical trio becomes incredibly successful and the other two don’t, which is more or less the story of The Lonely Island. Samberg got the SNL deal, he got Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Taccone and Schaffer didn’t. Unlike Connor for Real, though, Andy Samberg clearly isn’t an ass, and while he has reached a level of fame and popularity that his friends haven’t and won’t, he recognizes that he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without them in the first place, and his ego hasn’t become so overpowering that he doesn’t want to work with them anymore. The three of them wrote Popstar, and Taccone and Schaffer codirected, and so the end product is as funny and successful as most other Lonely Island endeavors. Pretty much what I said. It’s essentially The Lonely Island Movie.
- The Zoolander sequel we should have gotten: Zoolander 2 was a travesty and I made a terrible, unforgivable, irreparable error in seeing it at all. Do not do as I have done. Zoolander is the perfect satire of the popular culture of the ‘90s and early 2000s. Its sequel is a perfect nothing of the culture of nothing from nowhere at no time ever. Popstar fills the monumental hole that Zoolander 2 left in its wake, essentially serving the same purpose that the original Zoolander did, but for a new generation. It almost repairs the wounds of Zoolander 2.
If you like The Lonely Island and felt betrayed by Zoolander 2, then you will probably find Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping pretty damn wonderful. Like I said, though, comedy is hit or miss, and everyone’s tastes are so sensitively different. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wander down the rabbit hole of Andy Samberg’s backlog, starting with the transcendent “Andy Punching People Before They Eat.”