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Monday, June 6, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (6-3-2016)

        When it comes to comedy, there's an awfully thin line between clever and stupid. Many prefer to maintain a sort of binary between the two, slotting their Woody Allens in one file, and their Adam Sandlers in another, and while the two aforementioned examples would certainly support that level of genre organization, many of our best laugh-fests locate something of a sweet spot in between. Describing Dumb and Dumber as an intellectual feat would raise eyebrows in any room in which the claim was uttered, but there's a brilliance to the film's steadfast devotion to exploring the deepest depths of idiocy. Same goes for Anchorman, This is Spinal TapAirplane!, or any other movie so brazenly moronic that it simply must have been made by a genius. Flicks baring this lofty level of inspired lunacy are few and far between, so let's take a moment to observe the accomplishment of The Lonely Island (among our generation's most heady dunces), and their pitch-perfect film debut, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

        Comprised of SNL alums Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, the three-piece mock-rap outfit has been making side-splitting bangers since 2009, graduating from an NBC sideshow into semi-legitimate band with three albums to their name. Though their lyrics constantly vacillate between comic shrewdness and goading randomness, the group's production values have always remained strikingly on par with the popular music of the moment. Popstar pulls off a similar trick, relaying a story of relentless absurdity with the conventions and trappings of a legitimate Concert Documentary. Given the movie's easy classification as a Mockumentary (they still make those?), it's almost impossible not to compare it to the aforementioned Spinal Tap. That film found its humor in observing the death knell of the gloriously gaudy rock of the late 70's and early 80's; this one lambasts the cliches of modern stardom, and does so with an acute awareness of its many influencing factors, from social media to technological advances to our fascination with knowing the political stances of famous individuals whom we will never meet. Music movies, wether they be documentaries, narrative features, or concert films, have a tendency to look backwards, making the of-the-moment freshness of Popstar stand out from the pack, and affording it a whole new set of targets at which to take aim.

        Though we know them in real life as The Lonely Island, the new movie rebrands the trio as The Style Boyz, a Beastie Boys-type outfit who made their name on crass lyrics, and pop hits absurd enough to remind us that, as a collective society, allowed Who Let the Dogs Out? and The Macarena to become global phenomenons. The least overtly talented but somehow most charismatic member Conner (Samberg) ends up going solo under the moniker Conner4Real, and while his initial monetary success is measured in millions, Popstar prefers to observe his failures, and subsequent unraveling. He's joined on tour by a hoard of clingers-on, including a publicist (Sarah Silverman), a manager (Tim Meadows), and former bandmate-turned-DJ Owen (Taccone). What ever happened to the original band's third member, you ask? Well, he's taken up a reserved life as a farmer on a particularly isolated plot of land in Colorado, from where he just about steals the whole movie.

        He also directs it, along with Taccone, and their collective prowess behind the camera is not to be ignored. The movie at large plays like a series of 3-minute-long sketches, but the filmmaking tandem shows an unteachable understanding of when one joke is played out, and it's time to move on to the next. Clocking in at 86 minutes in total, I'm not sure Popstar could stand to be even five minutes longer, but entirely too much would be lost were it five minutes shorter. Despite the movie's utter madness, there's a heartening level of control on display in all levels of production, especially in the editing room. Today marks the fourth day of the film's existence on the big screen, and after its opening weekend struggled to make it past 4.5 million dollars, you'd be wise to anticipate its theatrical existence to only live on for another ten days are so. Given the financial history of this type of film, it's a fairly easy deduction that both music movies and Mockumentaries are not genres that prompt excitement in most people. I suppose I'm just a sucker for funny songs, and if this movie doesn't sound appealing to you on paper, I won't try to force my praise of it upon you. But I will say this; Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping accomplishes virtually everything it sets out to do, and if this premise is at all in your wheel house, I implore you to see it, and on the big screen, where the musical numbers manage to legitimately impress. That line between clever and stupid has never been so blurry, nor has the divide between sloppy mania and attentive perfectionism.

Grade: A-

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