By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
One of my first reactions to first hearing about the comedy movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is in wondering if the story is going to be anything like Journey’s song, “Don’t Stop Believing?” In some ways, it does but forgoes the dynamics of a small town girl and a boy becoming close. Unlike the film, their success does not mean them breaking up and leading separate lives but instead examines how difficult it is to stay ahead of the game. In what’s presented is downright hilarious. This movie comes close to mirroring the ingenuity of This is Spinal Tap!
Very few musicians are lucky to consistently belong at the top of the music charts. Some struggle, like Conner Friel (Andy Samberg), to maintain their integrity. At the start of his career, he forms a rap trio, The Style Boyz with childhood friends Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer). They were set to be true pioneers during a musical award show simply referenced The Poppy’s. But when Lawrence hears Conner not giving credit to where it’s due, a rift forms. He leaves, and Owen almost does too… Unaware of all the hurt feelings going on due to Friel’s ever growing ego, this mockumentary goes places which are undeniably funny.
Plenty of names in the industry like Simon Cowell, Carrie Underwood and RZA land their hand in this film. A few more other performing artists (I don’t follow the hip-hop scene so some faces were unfamiliar) talk about how the group has influenced them. Friel (now known as Conner4Real) is not doing as well as a shaker now that he’s gone solo. Just like other films which explore the industry, like Begin Again, when producers get their hands on talents and shape the music in their image instead of the artist’s, problems are going to arise and integrity gets compromised. I recognize this formula too much in these type of movies. Josie and the Pussycats and Jem and the Holograms tell similar tales. But not every movie has a rival within its plot. When Conner an opening act with hip-hop artist, Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd) to boost his popularity, eventually just who will rule the stage will create new conflict.
The parody works. Hungry is fuming by the end, showing what Conner has become in a twist of fate. Friel does not quite understand but does begin to see the error of his ways. While he tries to become a better person, the defining moment is when an individual close to him passes. His world is in a tailspin and in what gives this film heart is in how the bonds he had with his two best friends from his youth never went away. Just like Journey’s song, the best days of their lives (before they signed to a label) are recalled.
Lawrence never gave up his music. He just never talked about it while the world saw him simply take up a simpler life in farming. When fences were mended and Conner gets offered a chance to renew his career, the choices he has to make is going to be tough. Just like the best sports film, only one direction is obvious: team effort wins the day and the heart of this viewer seeking to escape a hot day outdoors. This movie is an underdog which will perform well in the video market, but in the theatres, it’s tough to be on top especially when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 are in the house.
3½ Stars out of 5