Review – Pop Star (2016)

popstar-movie-2016-poster1

by Kevin Muller

Parody is truly an art form.   Mel Brooks, who did “Space Balls”, “History of the World: part 1,” and many others are that deemed classic, and David Zucker, who directed the hilarious “The Naked Gun” series, were masters of making the silly seem easy. Though it may appear that way, it is anything but simple.   When it doesn’t work, it just fails horribly and isn’t even in the slightest bit funny or have any redeeming qualities.   Over the last ten years, many parodies have been released and have been forgotten.   Those specific movies fail to hit the balance correctly and just come off as plain idiotic, but not in a good way.  How does the musical comedy group ‘The Lonely Island” do in this genre?

First, who are “The Lonely Island?”   The group consists of three childhood friends who are musically inclined and use that talent to make comedic songs.   Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, the films costars and directors, are two-thirds a part of the real life group and the fictitious one “The Style Boyz.”   The last part of the group is Andy Samberg, who also portrays the subject of the mockumentary Conner4Real.   As with his movie alter ego, Samberg is the one who has become the most famous one but that is where the parallels stop.   Even though Samberg is the most identifiable, he still remains true to his friends and constantly works with them and their group.

What is a mockumentary though?  One other parody genius that should be included in the mix is Christopher Guest.  Unlike Brooks and Zucker, he perfected the art of parody through this form.    This is where the movie is filmed like a documentary but is scripted.   The trio seem to have been influenced by him since this is the way this movie is shot.    To say this is ripping on every music documentary to come out over the last five years would be an understatement, especially Mr. Bieber.   One would be a fool not to see that Conner shares many qualities with the beloved Canadian popstar.  Much of the antics that Conner is involved in reflect many of the scenarios Bieber have been in.   The movie also rips on the decay of music quite well and how it isn’t about the music, but the image.   Samberg fits so well into Conner’s persona that it is hard to see that he is acting.   This dude is disillusioned, selfish, limitedly talented, and most of all…dumb.   Samberg seems to be having a blast playing such an out of touch character.

Since this is an ensemble piece, how does everyone else do around him?  It does get a bit crowded but most help contribute to the utter wackiness that is going on up on screen.  While Schaffer’s Lawrence, who was the lyricist, has retreated to the rural country side, after Connor took all the credit for a hit song he wrote, Taccone’s Owen has remained loyal to his awful friend.   It appears that he is Connor’s DJ but all he does is hit play on a tiny I-POD that already has the beat laid down and dance around like he is actually doing something.   Taccone is the heart of the movie and acts as Connor’s conscience throughout the story.   He is the only one who is truthful and truly loves Connor for who he is and not what he has become.  Owen’s ultimate dream is to mend fences with Connor and Lawrence.   He knows that they are the ones who really his friends through thick and thin and don’t constantly kiss his ass like all his Hollywood friends.   Tim Meadows plays Harry, Connor’s manager, who once dreamed of success of his own but failed.   He tries to live through Connor while that the same time try to control him.   Their relationship is reminiscent of a father trying to live through his son.   There are also cameos from Sarah Silverman, 50 Cent, Nas,  Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Ringo Starr, and many others.   One of the characters in the movie, who shows up every so often, is Will Arnett’s send up of Harry Levine who runs CMZ, a mock of TMZ, who follow Connor’s every move.   He exaggerates Levine but the utter ridiculousness of TMZ can easily be mocked so it is a joy to see Arnett be a vile and hungry parasite like Levine.   The best cameo though comes from Connor’s chef, who I will not spoil, but it is an actor you expect to be along with Samberg in this one.

One of the great aspects of the movie is definitely the music.   The lyrics are so terrible, but that is a joke.   How could anyone who get so far by performing terrible music?   Well, welcome to the mindset of most people who have seen the high points of music to the utter recent low points of pop music.   Even though the lyrics are bad, the beats are pretty damn good with Samberg having the swagger of the very people he is imitating.   He walks around the stage with such a sure cockiness that hating him is incredibly easy but he sells this douchebag so damn well.   He is all about the flash, both of stage and his life, and the antics that he makes his crew do on stage just becomes cartoonish.  They range from putting a head piece, reminiscent of a Transformer, to having his dancers dress up as Mona Lisa.   When the movie is on stage, the parody comes on full force.  Have you been to concerts today?   The amount of money invested into these performances distracts from some of the mediocre melodies being performed by the clones of the music industry.   Connor actually is a hybrid of most business made performers: he has style, he is easily manipulated, idiotic, and a pull for young people looking for some type of musical messiah.   Unlike his hit single “Humble,” he is anything but with constant disrespect for everything and a misunderstanding for anything that is right.    

The movie is under 90 minutes, but it does drag in places.   The joke of shallowness can only go so far until it starts to lose its flavor.   This isn’t a knock against Samberg, who feels so real in this part, but mainly the idea of constantly mocking the idea of a popstar that starts to feel stale.   As the movie progresses though, he starts to mend fences with his former friends/band mates.  This is where the movie starts to feel more than just a constant jab at the current state of music.  These three guys have such a strong bond that is sells their story so well.   

The Lonely Island’s first movie is way better than most comedies that have been released over the last few years.   It is full of ideas and creativity that you can forgive its freshman mistakes.   Even though we are supposed to hate him, Samberg is so damn likeable and charismatic.   His good natured aura is felt throughout the movie and makes you interested what he and his cohorts can do with a future release.  Maybe a rap opera?   One could hope!

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