For many years, the Lonely Island’s Digital Shorts were the best part of Saturday Night Live, as they made music videos for popular favorites like “Dick in a Box,” “Lazy Sunday,” “I’m on a Boat,” and more. It was only a matter of time before the collaborative team of Andy Samberg, Akiva Shaffer, and Jorma Taccone would make their first feature (2007’s Hot Rod doesn’t count), and Popstar is exactly the movie a fan of the trio could hope for.
In this case, all three of the Lonely Island are writing, producing, and appearing on camera as the vintage boy band Style Boyz, although Samberg’s Conner4Real is the only member of the group that’s broken away to have a solo career with his former bandmate Owen (Taccone) acting as DJ. When we come into the story, Conner is about to release his second album “CONNquest,” a departure from his first hit record, and things don’t go as well as his management team hopes.
With one of the most unwieldy titles humanly possible, the first feature from the Lonely Island uses an age-old formula for comedy, the “mockumentary.” It’s a hallowed tradition that can be traced back to 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, and the format works well here by incorporating their brand of musical humor with spoofs and satire of everything from TMZ to the way celebrities use social media. It’s more than just a knock at frequent comedy punching bag Justin Bieber—although they even got their mutual pal, R&B star Usher (Raymond) to appear in the movie.
Some of the jokes work on many levels, so besides having Usher involved, Lonely Island’s frequent collaborator Justin Timberlake also appears in a small role, ironic since Timberlake himself came from a similar situation where he became more famous by leaving his *NSYNC bandmates in his wake.
Probably the biggest revelation for the movie is Tim Meadows, who plays Conner’s manager Harry with enough emotion to give the character a stronger character arc than some of the other supporting players like Sarah Silverman as Conner’s publicist or Joan Cusack as his mother. Most of the comedians and musicians making cameos or supplying the “talking heads” bring something to the mix, but at times, it does feel like they’re trying too hard to make a legit doc, something that can never happen due to how ludicrous things get.
This is especially the case with Conner’s live performances, impressive for the large-scale production values that would normally accompany any big pop star’s tour. They end up having to bring in an opening act, a hot rapper named Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), to boost ticket sales, but it soon becomes obvious that most of the audience are showing up for him, causing expected jealousy.
If you know a little more about the current music business than the average moviegoer, you’ll appreciate some of the jokes better than others, like the place Owen holds in Conner’s backline as his DJ, which mostly amounts to hitting play on an iPod. By including a lot of legitimate pop stars among the interviews, it gives more veracity to the otherwise ridiculous Conner4Real.
The oddest aspect of the film is when it visits Schaffer’s Lawrence, the member of the Style Boyz who quit music to become a Colorado farmer, but by the last act, the idea of this being a documentary is discarded in favor of a straight-up comedy as Conner starts to seriously consider a Style Boyz reunion in the face of his failing solo career.
Popstar is the Lonely Island at their best and a brilliantly clever successor to This is Spinal Tap, although sadly, it’s the type of movie that caters more to kids that would rather do all their viewing on an iPhone instead of in a movie theater.
Popstar opens nationwide on Friday, June 3.