I’m thinking Justin Bieber is going to hate this movie.
Or maybe he’ll say he loves it even as he secretly hates it.
Or maybe he WILL love it and he won’t understand why it should give him the chills in the deep of night.
As was the case with the incomparable “This is Spinal Tap” and the equally sublime “A Mighty Wind,” the Lonely Island Trio’s boy band/pop culture/social media satire “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” clearly has a genuine admiration and affection for the very subject it hilariously skews.
It’s funny because it gets it RIGHT without ever being too mean-spirited. Even the jokes referencing Anne Frank and Osama bin Laden are good-natured and almost sweet.
Friends since junior high school and zeitgeist favorites online and on TV for the last decade, the Lonely Island guys Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone have collaborated on a pitch-perfect take satirizing modern-day pop stardom; the sometimes ridiculous but often infectious music dominating the scene in the 21st century, the voracious celebrity media culture and the vacuous nature of some of our most worshiped showbiz stars.
Schaffer and Taccone co-directed. Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone wrote the screenplay. And the three star as the boyhood friends who struck boy-band gold as the Style Boyz, who took the world by storm with catchy hits such as “The Donkey Roll” and “Karate Guy.”
Shot in faux-documentary style, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” introduces us to the Style Boyz through “archival footage,” including YouTube-style video of baby Conner killing it on the drums at the age of 1 (!), and early performances by the boys when they had yet to hit puberty. (These are the first of many, many scenes and jokes with close parallels to Justin Bieber’s career ups and downs, though “Popstar” also has fun poking fun at all-white boy bands such 98 Degrees and ‘N Sync, not to mention more than a dozen celebrities, many of whom appear as themselves, poking fun at themselves. Good for you, Mariah Carey, Adam Levine, Carrie Underwood, Usher, Snoop Dogg, et al.)
The thing about Samberg and his buddies is they’re talented enough and charismatic enough performers to believably portray pop stars — and while their songs and their videos are deliberately, insanely dopey, the material isn’t all that different from some of the real songs that have hit No. 1 and some of the actual videos and performances that dominate YouTube and the endless parade of music awards shows.
After the inevitable breakup caused by Conner’s out-of-control ego, Conner strikes out as a solo act billing himself as Conner4Real. He quickly becomes maybe the biggest pop star in the world, surrounded by a huge entourage of sycophants and hangers-on, including a short fellow who poses next to Conner on red carpets so Conner appears tall, a personal assistant who pays no attention to him whatsoever and a guy whose sole purpose is to punch Conner in the groin to remind Conner where he came from.
Real-life DJs, producers and music stars give talking-head interviews in which they sing Conner’s praises. Brilliant comic actors such as Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Joan Cusack and Bill Hader light it up as supporting players in Conner’s world.
I loved Chris Redd’s work as “Hunter the Hungry,” a rapper who becomes Conner’s opening act just as Hunter’s star is rising and Conner’s is dropping. Schaffer and Taccone shine as Conner’s former best friends, each of whom has to find his own way as Conner flames out in spectacular fashion.
The jabs at TMZ, phony “reality shows,” celebrity magazines, superstar DJs, overblown concerts, pop stars who take up causes they know nothing about, Snapchatting fans, fame-hungry young beauties and the E! Channel: all sharp and spot-on. (An “E! exclusive” in which Conner “privately” proposes to his gorgeous idiot of a girlfriend with the paparazzi snapping away, Seal crooning a proposal song and a pack of wolves in attendance — don’t ask — is just fantastic.)
Front and center, carrying the film, is Samberg in what is easily the most winning film performance of his career. Yes, Conner is a dim-bulb fool with an out-of-control ego, but there’s something endearing and sweet and likably pathetic about the guy — and his heart is in the right place, if only he can remember exactly WHERE he placed it.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone and written by Schaffer, Taccone and Andy Samberg. Running time: 86 minutes. Rated R (for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use). Opens Friday at local theaters.