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film review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, starring Andy Samberg, delivers a biting take on the state of Top 40 music in 2016.Glen Wilson

History tells us that we can trust Andy Samberg. We can also trust Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer because we have trusted the Lonely Island to make us laugh and to make us sing.

But can we trust them to make us think?

According to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – the latest vehicle from the Holy Trinity – we can. Especially as it delivers a biting take on the state of top 40 music in the Year of Our Lord, 2016. Which is no easy feat, believe me.

As we saw in the arguably confusing Zoolander 2, parodies (or whatever that movie was) have lost traction in the wake of what comedy's evolved into now. To spoof or to throw shade works for a hot second, but as evidenced by the success of Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, and even Samberg's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there has to be more to a premise than one-liners, cheap shots, and OTT performances. There has to be heart. There has to be commentary. And in the case of a movie like Popstar, there has to be something other than mocking the likes of the industry's biggest and brightest. And the Lonely Island understands this.

Revolving around a Bieber-like superstar named Conner4Real (played by Samberg), the faux documentary follows the release and aftermath of his new album, his struggle for relevance and the effects of a business that prioritizes either youth or nostalgia. And fortunately for Conner, the latter could be played to his favour: having split up with his original band the Style Boyz (Taccone and Schaffer) years earlier, he becomes increasingly encouraged to return to his roots and to get the band back together. Which, of course, is the last thing you'd want to hear as a solo star.

And Conner's story alone is entertaining. We watch him capitalize on political movements to further his relevance (specifically through a Macklemore-like song about legalizing gay marriage – long after it's been legalized, and laced with "but I'm not gay!" subtext). We see him enlist a Tyler, The Creator-esque rapper (played perfectly by Chris Redd) to up his cultural clout. And we cringe through an engagement to his equally fame-loving girlfriend Ashley (Imogen Poots) right before they – and Seal – are attacked by wolves. All of which is funny, and all of which would make for an easy-to-watch and enjoyable film.

But Popstar is smarter than that.

Based heavily on the formulas of documentaries like Bieber's Never Say Never, Backstreet Boys' Show 'Em What You're Made Of, and One Direction's This Is Us, the movie combines straightforward filming with dozens of celebrity cameos-as-interviews, featuring everyone from Questlove to Nas to Mariah Carey to A$AP Rocky to Usher, who offer their takes on Conner4Real as a musician and what the Style Boyz meant to them. So, it's less a spoof than it is a homage. Especially since we're watching such similar scenes play out in music right now. I mean, hi: Zayn's attempting solo stardom, Drake's latest record tackles emotional fulfilment/lack thereof, and Bieber is experiencing an existential crisis on Instagram. The music industry is hard work. And Popstar reflects that, all without punching down.

Instead, it's a legitimate look at celebrity culture delivered in a way that's as funny as it is thought-provoking. And while it also boasts an array of dick jokes (of which there are many, and they are great), it also holds a magnifying glass up to the culture that we've all had a hand in creating. Conner4Real is the product of all of us. But I liked his story so much that I'm not even sorry, and I'll never stop stopping.