The following is a short updated review (2022) of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016).
Mockumentaries can be absolutely hilarious. I love the general idea behind that entire genre, in that it can lampoon the level of gravitas that documentaries can sometimes have. The excellent original Borat film managed to be both outright funny, but also revealing about the reaction real people have to their jokes and characters. So when I found out that the brilliant The Lonely Island guys were doing a mockumentary somewhat inspired by Justin Bieber’s musical documentary and concert film Never Say Never, I was as excited as I could possibly be. This felt like a great kind of documentary to have fun with. For some reason, when I first saw the film, it didn’t really click for me, and so my original review indicated that it was merely ‘okay.’ However, on subsequent viewings, it has improved significantly for me. I think it’s brilliant.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping tells the story of the lead man in the fictional boyband The StyleBoyz, Conner4Real (played by Andy Samberg). In the film, Conner4Real, who has just gone solo, has to deal with his newest album getting terrible reviews, as well as having to get an opening act that may be becoming more popular than Conner is. It lampoons classic boy band break-ups, paparazzi scoops, and the extent to which some artists take themselves too seriously.
There are some really fantastic moments in this mockumentary. The songs are, as expected (because this was made by The Lonely Island), among the highlights of the film. I especially enjoyed “Mona Lisa;” “I’m So Humble;” and “Equal Rights.” These songs help to establish character and character insecurities, but one of these also feels like an indirect spoof of a specific popular Macklemore song. Of course, this is a full mockumentary and not a short or a Saturday Night Live sketch, so the hilarious songs aren’t enough. On my first viewing, I thought that the funniest joke in the film was in the trailers, i.e. the fantastic Thirty Seconds to Mars. And while I did enjoy parts of the film, I didn’t originally think Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping worked as more than a series of sketches. However, after multiple viewings, I think that is a misreading.
Popstar has certain goals that it sets out to achieve, and I think it accomplishes those goals, with several gags that aren’t just sketch-esque but that have actual importance to the overall plot. That doesn’t mean it isn’t cameo-heavy, it is. And, of course, the songs feel like short sketches. But I think it works as a full narrative, and it has turned out to be somewhat of a comfort film for me that I reference quite often. So much of it is laugh-out-loud funny, and I think many of my previous criticisms miss the mark. With that said, I do think there are some criticisms that are still there for me. I think the overall boy band break-up narrative is predictable. To a certain extent, I think that is one of its jokes, but that doesn’t make it any less predictable. Still, I think it achieves what it sets out to do and is an excellent mockumentary that skewers the veil of seriousness that some musical artists try to wrap themselves in
8 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex