Director: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Joan Cusack
Release Date: June 3rd, 2016
Actor Andy Samberg has found his sweet spot. After performing on Saturday Night Live for years, the actor expanded his horizons into films with mixed results. He had minor roles in a few solid comedies but oftentimes chose the wrong projects. In 2012’s terrible That’s My Boy, for example, the actor teamed up with Adam Sandler for one of the worst movies of that year. Since then, Samberg has bounced back as a comedian on the small screen as the star of the terrific Fox comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and now he’s bounced back on the big screen in his new film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
The comedy provides the optimal platform for the gifted performer and shows what the actor can do with the right set-up.
The new comedy was written by Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone — the members of the comedy trio better known as The Lonely Island (whose musical work includes The Lego Movie’ s brilliant anthem Everything is Awesome). All three performers star in Popstar with Schaffer and Taccone serving as co-directors here.
The chemistry between the trio is obvious onscreen and their tight-knit relationship likely helped them develop this strong script.
This story begins with the rise of Conner (Samberg), one of the three members of the successful boy band Style Boyz. Filmed like a documentary, the feature shows how the band found great success before Conner — the group’s superstar — left for his own solo career.
Labeling himself Conner4Real, the singer walked away from his best friends. Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), the other members of the Style Boyz, were forced out of the spotlight. Owen became Conner4Real’s DJ — where he is relegated to the back of the stage — while Lawrence exiled himself from society and became a farmer.
Featuring cameos from Ringo Starr to Simon Cowell, the feature chronicles Conner’s rise as a solo artist and his eventual fall from fame. Along the way, Samberg continually shows off his comedic chops with a willingness to engage in outrageous behavior to earn a chuckle or two.
It helps that there are greats comedians in supporting roles here and there are few memorable running gags outside of the main storyline. Tim Meadows appears as Connor4Real’s manager Harry, who continually laments about his own boy band past. Also, Will Arnett steals the scene as an over-the-top tabloid “journalist” who reports on Conner’s exploits with the relish of a dog who just found a bone in the backyard.
There are some set-ups here — such as an incident revolving around a nude stunt onstage — that don’t work as well as they could but the comedy is so full of great moments (including a hilarious wedding sequence) that it’s hard to be disappointed when a joke or two falls flat.
On a different level, the comedy packs some solid punches at the music industry, which oftentimes treats its stars like products rather than people and tries to make even superficial pop stars into musical icons. Sarah Silverman, who plays Conner’s publicist, notes without a shade of irony that she’d “love to get Conner to the point where he’s just kind of everywhere like oxygen or gravity or clinical depression.”
Fans of Justin Bieber will likely see that much of the humor here — including Conner’s breakout video as a youngster — are reminiscent of Bieber’s own eccentric antics but none of the humor is painfully harsh. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping just has a fun time running with its concept and keeps the laughs coming to the very end. Samberg and his bandmates have truly scored here and I can’t wait to see what projects they work on next.
Review by: John Hanlon