Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer
Watch Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
This Is Spinal Tap. Sweet and Lowdown. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash. I’m Still Here. You can count the number of good music mockumentaries on one hand. Now, though, you’re going to need an extra finger on that one hand, because the genre just got the shot in the arm it needed from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Created by The Lonely Island, it’s proof for anyone who has (or hasn’t) seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine that Andy Samberg is one of the funniest people in entertainment today.
Samberg and his Saturday Night Live collaborators, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, have only rarely ventured from the small screen to the big, with their last feature – Hot Rod – arriving 10 years ago. In that decade, though, they have doubled down on their musical output, premiering songs such as “3-Way (The Golden Rule)”, feat. Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga, and “Motherlover”. In 2014, their song “Everything Is Awesome”, featured in The LEGO Movie, was nominated for an Oscar. Hilarious, unashamedly silly and worryingly catchy, they sit alongside Monty Python and Flight of the Conchords at the pinnacle of the music comedy scene, writing songs that work as tracks in their own right, as well as jokes. It’s only natural, then, that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping isn’t just an amusing spoof, but also a prolonged music video for The Lonely Island.
There’s love and attention to detail poured into every mock lyric and chart parody, from 2 Banditos to Incredible Thoughts, which literally just lists thoughts they’ve had in their brains. The best are produced by The Style Boyz, a boy band made up of Conner (Samberg), Owen (Taccone) and Lawrence (Schaffer). Having gone their separate ways, due to an argument over Conner taking all the credit for their work, Popstar picks up as he tries to go it alone. Samberg is fantastic at playing the egotistical prick, managing to be as selfish as he is entirely self-un-aware – and that attitude is conveyed in his songs, which are just bad enough to be notably worse than The Style Boyz’ classic hit, Donkey Roll.
That’s made clear from the off, as we see a live rendition of “Finest Girl”, a song that compares fornication to the US military assassinating Osama Bin Laden – an opening sequence that will leave your jaw on the floor. As soon as you lift it up, though, the script knocks is back down again, with an onslaught of terrible jokes, witty jokes, terribly witty jokes and jokes that are so hard to tell whether they’re witty or terrible that you give in and laugh anyway. The gag rate doesn’t let up for 90 minutes, as the film charts its way through Conner’s gradual discovery that he needs to be more humble, and that The Style Boyz really should get back together.
The whole thing is peppered with cameos from a whos-who of the music world, from Jimmy Fallon and Mariah Carey to Michael Bolton, Arcade Fire, Usher and Pharrell Williams. Where some films, such as Ted, use those as jokes in themselves, these cameos are used to enhance existing jokes, adding an absurd credibility to this alternate universe, while satirising celebrity culture, desperate stunts to get social media attention (one word: wolves) and simply poking fun at the songs. “Things in My Jeep”, featuring Linkin Park, is dismissed by one talking head for being a list of items in someone’s jeep: “I didn’t really relate to that song, because I have different things in my jeep.”
The result is a film that does for music what Zoolander did for fashion, finding the line between stupidity and smarts that made This Is Spinal Tap an instant classic. Halfway through Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, you’ll already have bought the soundtrack. Recommendations don’t come much higher than that. This isn’t just your new favourite comedy: it’s your new favourite album.