Since 1984, This Is Spinal Tap has been the gold standard of film satires, a flawless movie that uses the mockumentary format to lampoon pop culture and music in the 1980s. In the years since there have been worthy mockumentary successors—Drop Dead Gorgeous, What We Do in the Shadows—but no one has hit the mix of movie, music, and era the way that Spinal Tap does. It seemed untouchable, that no one could possibly match its brilliance. But then came Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, the music mockumentary from The Lonely Island. It’s every bit as good as Spinal Tap.
Written by Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer—aka The Lonely Island—Popstar is “laugh until you cry” funny. I know—I laugh/cried SIX TIMES. (Schaffer and Taccone also handle directing duties.) They have a tall order in Popstar, for not only do they have to deliver jokes and story, but they also had to write a new album of songs for “Conner4Real”, the Bieber-esque popstar played by Samberg. But they manage all of it, and the result is a hysterical movie with an equally funny soundtrack. The song “I’m So Humble” is especially funny, punctuated as it is by an interview with Mariah Carey saying the song really spoke to her.
It seems like Samberg called in every favor he had because the film is loaded with cameos, but they’re not just willy-nilly “hey look that guy” moments. They all pay off comically at some stage of the movie. Most of the cameos are musicians appearing in Behind the Music style talking head interviews, but there are plenty within the narrative portion of the film, too. One standout is the “CMZ” bit intercut throughout the film, featuring Will Arnett as a Harvey Levin stand-in. He’s joined by Chelsea Peretti, Eric Andre, and Mike Birbiglia, doing a newsroom bit spoofing the TMZ television show. It’s absolutely hilarious and it rewards you for having some gossip knowledge.
The story is surprisingly tight, revolving around Conner’s second solo album release and tour. With album sales crashing and a series of public relations blunders tarnishing his reputation, Conner is desperately clinging to his superstardom. He’s threatened by his opening act, a scene-stealing Chris Redd as batsh*t crazy rapper Hunter the Hungry, and he’s virtually friendless after breaking up his boy band, the Style Boyz.
Samberg nails the combination of bravado and immaturity of a popstar, but EVERYONE in Popstar delivers. Taccone plays Conner’s long-suffering best friend, Owen, slowly demoted down the ladder of Conner’s act, and Schaffer appears as Lawrence, the Style Boy forced out of show business after the band broke up. Popstar has a surprisingly big heart centered on these ex/friends.
And amazingly, ALL of the humor works. There are gross out gags, a dozen quotable one liners, parody songs, satire, spoofs, high-concept situational bits, and structured sketches, and everything lands. Most comedies go in one, maybe two, directions. Popstar fires in all directions at once and pulls off every concept it goes for. It feels like The Lonely Island operating at their peak and absolute sharpest, and without restraint. Keanu feels like watered-down Key & Peele, but Popstar is the exact opposite. This is The Lonely Island turned loose without supervision, and they delivered a monster piece of comedy.
Not even Justin Timberlake can ruin it. He inevitably pops up, playing Conner’s tour chef, but not even his camera-hogging mugging can break the flow of the film. Comedy is subjective, which can make recommending comedies tough, but there’s something for everyone in Popstar. Between the different comedy styles used, the different musical genres parodied, and the sheer volume of jokes, something in here will make anyone laugh. Odds are, it will make you laugh a lot. This is a tremendous film, the kind of comedy built to last. It’s wildly funny, unexpectedly sweet, and exceptionally well made. I can’t image the person who doesn’t like Popstar. It’s our twenty-first century Spinal Tap.
Attached - Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone at the premiere of Popstar last week in New York.