Okay, so, first off, this is a hard R comedy. If you’re not down with nudity (female and male) and non-stop foul language, hop off this train immediately. Secondly, this is kind of a hybrid review of the soundtrack (to which I was exposed first) and the film (which I watched later).
Popstar is structured like a documentary, and does a nice job maintaining that storytelling device throughout. The story is about Conner, a performer who seems to be Justin Timberlake if he had the emotional maturity of Justin Bieber. Played by Andy Samberg, it’s yet another loveable doofus who doesn’t quite understand his own doofishness.
Conner’s solo career is exploding. He broke away from The Style Boyz, a band made up of him and two childhood friends, Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer). When “Kid Conner” became “Conner4Real”, Owen became a yes-man in Conner’s posse, and Lawrence retreated from celebrity to be a farmer. The through-line of the film is Conner realizing that he needs to reconnect with these old friends. They are each the best versions of themselves when they’re together.
What’s fantastic about this film is that the music is really what ties everything together, and the music is great. The punchiest songs, featured in the film’s trailer and in a Samberg appearance on SNL before the film came out, are the ones seemingly written by Conner4Real. They are politically tone-deaf and represent the crassest version of American exceptionalism. Here’s a sample lyric from one of my favorites, “Mona Lisa”, a hilarious riff on how Leonardo’s masterpiece is overrated: “I am an American man, this is my native land where no one lies about paintings. But that’s not the case in France.” In a similar vein, it’s hard not to love the song “Finest Girl”, which cleverly deconstructs the various uses of the F-word in popular culture: “This girl requested intercourse to bring her to climax With the clinical efficiency of the assassination of Bin Laden”
The connection of story and character to the songs goes throughout the soundtrack and film. The solo projects of Conner’s one-time collaborators, “Owen’s Song” and “Things in my Jeep” are ridiculous (and ridiculously funny) in different ways. It becomes clear that when they get together again, the result will be phenomenal. This is the song “Incredible Thoughts”, complete with vocals from Michael Bolton.
What’s nice about these songs from The Lonely Island (the band name of Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer) is that they eschew their normal format, wherein there is some sort of confusion or drama within the song, as if it was recorded live with no edit. Here, the songs are fully formed. There is the small problem that in the universe of the film, some songs are “great” and others are “terrible”, despite the fact that, to me, the listener in the real world, they are all equally strange and equally enjoyable. But that’s a minor quibble.
Toss in some great supporting performances (Tim Meadows, in particular, shines) and a ton of musician cameos (props to Seal), and this film works remarkably well.