We’ve seen almost as many satires on the music business as we’ve seen mockumentaries, but credit has to go to the trio of comedians behind The Lonely Island – Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone – for making a comedy that combines the two and contains enough laughs to not seem tired, even if it doesn’t quite have the relentlessness or the quotability of a This Is Spinal Tap. Schaffer and Taccone direct and act in supporting roles, all three write and Samberg is the star, playing a self-centred, unpleasantly brattish Justin Bieber-esque pop star called Conner4Real with plenty of gusto. Conner’s massive popularity has resulted in an out-of-control ego, and at the start of the film he’s a solo artist surrounded by a bizarre entourage of ‘yes’ men. A prologue fills us in on how he got there, charting the success and eventual break-up of his first band The Style Boyz (a Beastie Boys parody), who imploded amid a series of petty squabbles between members. One of these (Taccone) now ekes out a thankless living as Conner’s regularly-abused DJ, while the other (Schaffer) has become a farmer and sculptor who doesn’t care much for farming and exhibits very little talent at sculpting. Once Conner’s solo career starts to hit the skids you can pretty much guess the rest.
The plot is neither here nor there. What’s more important is that the performances (and lyrics) will keep most audiences chuckling away throughout. Popstar manages to effectively saritise modern American pop music and everyone associated with it – artists, managers, crew, fans, hangers-on – without ever being nasty or overly-caustic about anyone in particular. The targets are obvious, and the delivery is often right on the nose, but the hit rate is good and there regular, absurd flights of fancy work really well; I chuckled throughout a silly scene in which Conner’s marriage proposal to Imogen Poots’s actress goes horribly wrong, there’s a decent Spinal Tap homage when an on-stage costume change backfires, and I haven’t laughed so hard at a tortoise’s funeral in months. One of the most noticeable problems with the film, though, is that it’s far too reliant on celebrity talking head cameos, with dozens stuffed in to pad out the running time. The sheer number of these – Wu Tang members, Nas, Akon, Ringo Starr, Mariah Carey, Simon Cowell, etc. – highlights the fact that an hour’s worth of good material has been stretched out to 90-odd minutes, and sadly once you’ve seen one of them you’ve seen them all. (Much better are the ‘acting’ cameos by the likes of Bill Hader, Joan Cusack and Justin Timberlake, who plays Conner’s beleaguered chef.) When it ditches the talking heads, though, Popstar is funny, full of energy, and it’s one of the better comedies of 2016 that I’ve seen.
Directed by: Akiva Schaeffer, Jorma Taccone.
Written by: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaeffer, Jorma Taccone.
Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaeffer, Jorma Taccone, Tim Meadows, Sarah Silverman, Ashley Moore, Bill Hader, Imogen Poots, Justin Timberlake.
Cinematography: Brandon Trost.
Editing: Jamie Gross, Stacey Schroeder, Zene Baker.
Music: Matthew Compton, Various.
Running Time: 86 minutes.