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Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Still Never Stopping
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a near-perfect movie. If you haven’t seen it, and since this is a particularly easy pill to swallow, you should stop reading this now and go watch it. Six years since its release, I struggle to think of a movie that comes close in its balance of comedy and biting satire. I could easily spend the following few hundred words recalling my favorite gags, jokes, highly tuned digs, etc., from the movie. Unfortunately for close friends of mine, they will have to endure this at some point in their lives. Fortunately for you, I’ll quote just once: An evergreen joke that felt genuinely original in its construction and will never fail to make me laugh out loud in its execution. The following is an exchange between Andy Samberg, playing Connor, and the legendary Tim Meadows, playing his manager, Harry. Harry is trying to console Connor after a recent concert didn’t sell out, and Connor fears his star is waning:
Harry: This is an 18,000 seat arena. Nobody sells this out. You sold 15,000 seats, that’s still really good!
Connor: No, it’s not good! Hammerleg sold this place out last week!
Harry: Well, [the label] agrees with you; they’re concerned about ticket sales.
Connor: What! But it’s an 18,000-seat place. Nobody sells that out!
Harry: Hammerleg did! Last week!
To think too long on a joke can sometimes dull its teeth. Still, this joke is a clever turn of character intention, shifting power, and dialogue swapping that is perfection, further amplified in its delivery. Oscar Wilde would’ve been proud.
Fans of the ‘mockumentary’ format will be no stranger to the films of Christopher Guest. While Guest’s work is the gold standard for mockumentaries, it will sometimes leave me cold when hewing very closely to the standards of a traditional documentary. To be fair, this is where Guest’s films draw their power; knowing that what you’re watching isn’t real (but feels like it easily could be) only highlights the ridiculousness of the world around us. Following a Guest mockumentary with a watch of an actual documentary or reality television show only deepens one’s understanding of the madness of the western entertainment industrial complex. Popstar relishes in the format but doesn’t constrict itself within the form. (I’m thinking specifically of an off-camera moment where flamethrowers are used to slay a killer queen bee. Have I not convinced you to watch this yet!?) Interviews with celebrities offer a level of insight we’d expect in any actual documentary, and their commitment to the joke is impressive. The caliber of celebrities is obscene: RZA, Questlove, Usher, Ringo Starr, Mariah Carey, and the list goes on.
If I may, I will pause for a moment and sneak in another recommendation: Speaking of the western entertainment industrial complex, go watch Nope. Don’t read anything about it. Just go watch it. It’s stellar. It would make a sneaky effective double feature with Popstar.
Popstar is a movie that skewers everything ridiculous about modern culture, from capitalism to music, to celebrities, to business, to social media; hell, even prank culture gets called out. It’s cutting but never cruel or insulting. It strikes a balance you won’t find in most comedies. It ‘hates’ because it loves.
What makes this a great film, rather than just a good film? At its core, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a movie about redemption. It is a film about a society that celebrates hubris, regardless of the detriment to the individual. It is also a movie about the introspection and humility required to overcome hubris. It’s a movie about friendship and roots. It’s a testament to the belief that, if given a chance, earnest and heartfelt art will prevail. What that art looks like in a capitalist society is, for better or worse, up to us.
Ok, one more quote:
Nowadays, if you don’t sell out, people will wonder whether anyone asked you to.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Shaffer, and Jorma Taccone; Directed by Akiva Shaffer and Jorma Taccone
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
Ok. So Hot Doc Summer ended with a fake documentary. As fake as it gets. But think about the truth within!
Ah well, we all need a movie like this right now. As strange as it may seem to recommend something so “mainstream” immediately after preaching the gospel of Varda, I believe this movie stands up with the all-time great comedies. I hope you’ll give it a chance, and please do let me know what you think if you do.
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