Feature films based on SNL sketches rarely do very well, either critically or at the box office. Usually greenlit on the premise that a particular sketch or character is popular enough to act as a box office draw, sketch-based films rarely have enough material to justify even a modest ninety minute runtime, either due to a lack of depth to the source material or a protagonist that doesn’t have enough depth to justify a character arc without overstaying their welcome; either way, the problem lies in the shallow, improvisational nature of the film’s sketch comedy roots. The Lonely Island is a different beast entirely, though. Their music videos premiered as SNL Digital Shorts, featuring well-written comedy songs set to really funny imagery, meaning the comedy band would suffer from no improvisational detriment in trying to work their like into a feature narrative. Without characters per se, just goofy personas, The Lonely Island is a nebulous entity to adapt to the big screen, and yet they seemed to have pulled it off surprisingly well.
Originally rising to fame as part of boy band The Style Boyz, titular popstar Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) has since gone solo with an impressive debut that has led him to believe that he doesn’t need fellow Boyz Lawrence and Owen (Akiva Schaffer and Jorva Taccone, also directing and co-writing with Samberg). However, upon the release of his second album, the first one made without any help from his former bandmates, Conner begins a downward spiral from the heights of celebrity. The narrative is a fairly standard riches-to-rags morality tale shot in mockumentary style, but the formula works well at providing excuses for ludicrously staged character interactions, as well as to poke fun at the egocentricity of too-young celebrity and parody Samberg’s real life success relative to Schaffer and Taccone.
The film’s comedy comes across best during the musical numbers, which is to be expected. The Lonely Island has always had a gift for blending self-serious idiocy with absurd antics, and the film version of them mainly provides an excuse for them to present their brand of ridiculousness on a bigger budget in the form of music videos and parodic concert performances. These are the moments when the three feel most in their element, consistently hilarious and constantly full of frenetic energy.
The remainder of the film is more hit or miss, though thankfully with a ratio that favors the hits. Comprised of a combination of shock celebrity cameos, observations of the absurdity of celebrity lifestyle, and generally silly dialogue, Popstar delivers the laughs fast, but not always hard. It’s rare that a joke doesn’t at least partially land, but it’s also equally rare that a joke is gut-bustingly hilarious. The whole affair sits somewhere between a wide smile and a chuckle, which isn’t a bad thing; you just may realize on your way out the theater that you weren’t laughing as hard as you might have expected.
Overall, though, the film is a success. Not a revolutionary or even particularly noteworthy addition to the niche genre of mockumentary musicals, but I enjoyed it and think it is certainly worth the price of admission. So whether you’ve been a fan of The Lonely Island for years or this is your first exposure, Popstar is great bit of light summer fun on an opening weekend without much by way of quality contenders.