30 August 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping review

If you ever needed definitive proof that general audiences are terrible at deciding what films are worth spending their money on, look no further than Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Here's a film that audiences should have flocked to see - interesting premise, recognisable stars, and most importantly, genuinely hilarious - and yet there were just seven people in the showing I attended. Four, if you don't include myself and the two people who came with me.

That's the second emptiest showing of a film I've ever sat in, a frustrating reminder that general audiences seem to refuse to see anything that isn't based on a pre-existing intellectual property anymore. Still, a lack of interest from the population at large doesn't stop Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping from being quite easily the best comedy film of the year, a satirical look at the music industry and celebrity culture that leans hard into the over-exaggerated, almost surreal sense of humour that The Lonely Island are known for.

Shot in the style of a documentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping follows fictional superstar Conner4Real (a Justin Bieber type) in the weeks surrounding the release of his second solo album, CONNquest. He first gained fame as a member of The Style Boyz, a group he started with with his two best friends, but tensions between them caused by Conner's growing popularity resulted in them splitting up after an on-stage fist fight.

With Andy Samberg playing Conner and fellow The Lonely Island members Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer playing Owen and Lawrence (the other two members of The Style Boyz) respectively, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping almost feels like a meta-commentary on Samberg's success in comparison to the rest of The Lonely Island. Samberg may be the star of his own TV show and the most recognisable member of the group, but Jorma and Akiva are still fairly unknown outside fans of The Lonely Island; you have to wonder if Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is maybe rooted slightly more in reality than we think, and that the arc Conner takes through the film - accepting that he needs his band mates as much as they need him - might be one that Samberg himself has gone through at some point.

I don't know if I'm right, but if I am it might explain why the performance that Samberg gives in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is easily his most human and believable to date. His usual style of acting - that is, broad and hugely over-exaggerated - is still on display throughout most of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and working as well as it ever does, but there are also moments of genuine pathos in which he is given the opportunity to really act, and it turns out that he's pretty good at it. There is a nuance to Conner and the way Samberg plays him that stops him from being just a bad person for us to hate, which helps make Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping more than the purely functional comedy that it otherwise could have been.

That might make Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping sound a little heavy, but rest assured that it is, in fact, the funniest film I've seen in a very long time, a real treat in a year that has so far seemed oddly bereft of good comedy films. It's just gag after gag throughout, a rapid-fire approach to getting laughs that could have resulted in the film seeming like nothing more than a sequence of sketches if not for the strong story that brings everything together. Whether it be the songs Conner4Real performs, the various scenarios he finds himself in, the way the film pokes fun at the music industry or even just the vast array of very funny supporting characters and celebrity cameos, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping had me shaking with laughter frequently throughout, and I'm sure that anyone on the same wavelength as The Lonely Island will be too.

Despite my earlier frustration with general audiences, it really doesn't matter that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping isn't making a ton of money right now - I'm certain that it will find it's audience in about a year when it starts hitting streaming services, at which point people will start calling it a "cult classic" and I'll starting screaming at them for not seeing it in the cinema in the first place. I think that The Lonely Island have created something special here, something that really feels like it will be held in very high esteem in a few years time - and it's a damn shame that we'll have to wait that long for this movie to catch on in the way that it deserves to now.

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