If you know me, then you know I love a good mockumentary. Ever since I saw “Spinal Tap” at an age where I definitely didn’t get 90% of the humor, I have always loved the idea of tearing apart the worst aspect of something by blowing it out of proportion in a seemingly boring format. One of my favorite bits was always how absolutely boring the documentaries would have been without the ridiculous antics of the cast.
I’ve seen quite a few “mockumentaries” that spread all the way from the ridiculous “Tour de Pharmacy” to the dramatic “District 9,” which, despite its lack of standard humor, still parodies several aspects of documentaries in a fictitious world.
I’m not here to talk about the masterpiece that is “District 9.” I’m here to talk about a musical mockumentary made by the folks behind the SNL Digital Shorts.
I’m going to talk about Lonely Island’s “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.”
If you’ve never heard of The Lonely Island, they are the group responsible for many of SNL’s viral music videos such as “I’m on a Boat” and “Like a Boss.” The group includes Andy Samberg as the front man and his two friends from junior high, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone.
“Popstar” is the story of a musical prodigy who is working on his solo career following the disbanding of his boy band “The Style Boyz.” The film follows the subsequent collapse of his career and reputation after people find out that on his own, he is absolutely an awful human being and musician.
If I had to explain the personality of the protagonist Conner (Andy Samberg), it would be an early 2010s Justin Bieber. He is cocky, arrogant and thinks nothing of other people or the consequences of his actions. Throughout the film, we see him treating people like objects by telling them what they need to do and ignoring whether or not they agree with it.
I absolutely love the character of Conner because he is so easy to hate.
Sometimes when people write hate-able characters, they forget that the audience has to deal with the character too, and it just ends up making the character hard to watch because of their annoying personalities. But Conner is an absolute riot to watch due to his complete lack of common sense and the fact that nothing good comes from him being awful.
For example, while trying to sell his newest album, he partners with an appliance manufacturer that will make their appliances play his songs when used. Somehow, no one seems to see that this is an awful idea other than one background character, and Conner absolutely loves it. When the day comes, everyone just throws out or destroys their appliances rather than listen to his music, and the album sells under 1% of his last album.
This movie best satirizes the corporatization of musicians and the parts where they lose all artistic integrity. Conner barely writes his songs, leading to them all coming off as incredibly offensive. The music parts of his songs are just stored on an old iPod alongside Harry Potter audiobooks, and every decision made on the tour is made by his manager to line their pockets.
I know I may sound a little boring while talking about this, but it’s because that’s exactly how ‘mockumentaries’ work. They take the most mundane and boring style of film and use it to tell an incredibly ridiculous story that creates humor from the dissonance between the two. All the interviews sound so boring and low effort, yet when they are acting like a song called “The Donkey Roll” is the greatest musical piece of their childhood, it can’t help but tickle you inside.
The cast of this movie feels like a giant cameo list, and that’s intentional. Throughout the film they interview many famous musical artists and critics who are world renowned for their works such as Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney and even Justin Bieber himself, and these interviews feel ridiculous because they are talking about this group whose music is awful like they are the second coming of Christ.
The best cameo of all is Justin Timberlake (whose life story is the closest to Conner’s), who is Conner’s personal chef throughout the film. He constantly talks about how he wished he could sing like Conner, and anytime he sings while working (which sounds angelic as always), everyone tells him to shut up because he is hurting their ears.
This movie has a second level of humor that is completely unintentional. See, throughout the film they are constantly talking about how badly his albums are selling. To parallel that, when this movie was released in theaters, it was a complete box office bomb, selling less than half of their expected tickets on opening weekend. Knowing that makes much of the film even funnier considering how much money must have been thrown around to pay for all of the celebrity cameos and professional-level music videos.
I rate movies from 10 to -10, with negative being so bad it’s good. This movie gets a 7 from me, because it is a good movie, but it really isn’t worth paying much to see. There are many better ‘mockumentaries’ out there, and I highly suggest watching those instead of this one. However, if you are a fan of Lonely Island or of musical ‘mockumentaries,’ then this is just up your alley.
Today I want to talk about one of the forms of comedy that ‘mockumentaries’ do well, and that is a form of comedic irony that involves a dissonance between what we as a viewer experience and the reception by the characters in the film.
Take for example this movie, which has many songs that anyone with ears would hate, yet we see countless fans loving the music and real-life musical stars praising the songs we just heard. I’m not sure of the name for this type of comedy, but it works well in films of a more satirical nature, creating a larger rift between our reality and the reality of the film.
It’s oftentimes a critique on audience’s reaction to things that the writer feels the opposite about, like a popular song they dislike or a movie they thought did better than it should have.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell