The Lonely Island have, a decade after their debut on Saturday Night Life, mastered the art of parody. Vacillating between broad swipes at pop culture and absurdist comedy, their music videos have nearly singularly defined the age of the viral video. Now, they're taking their multifaceted talents to the silver screen in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," a mockumentary with a promising trailer. Time (and A.O. Scott) will only tell if this is a landmark comedy of megalithic proportions or just another overhyped and overinflated disaster resting on the laurels of the ensemble cast's previous efforts.
Like this one.
The film, however, has a lot going for it. Starring Andy Samberg with an impressive supporting cast that includes various SNL alum and music superstars, it has not only the inane and irreverent world of modern pop superstardom from which to mine comedy, but documentaries as well. The mockumentary genre has given the world some of the most ingenious satires in recent memory, and if the film manages to put its stellar cast to good use and strike at the heart of the vapid world of modern fame, it could join the ranks of these greatest mockumentaries of all time.
1. "Take the Money and Run" (1969).
After the whole married-his-stepdaughter thing, people tend to forget that Woody Allen was, a long time ago, an incredibly gifted comedian. "Take the Money and Run" proves that in spades. One of Allen's earliest directorial efforts, it details the life of Virgil Starkwell -- a hapless, luckless criminal whose criminal career is more hilarious than it is threatening, such as when the gun he carves from soap melts in the rain and his awful handwriting in a bank robbery leads to his arrest ("That looks like 'gub', that doesn't look like 'gun'). This film is a rare example of a pioneering piece of work (in this case, the mockumentary genre) that still stands as one of, if not the greatest of all time.
2. "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984).
Not the first mockumentary, but without a doubt the best, "This Is Spinal Tap" documents the rise and fall and rise of British heavy metal band, Spinal Tap. It is a riotously funny movie, one that mercilessly mocks the fast-paced-yet-asinine music industry with an unparalleled grace. From detailing the series of inexplicable drummer deaths (spontaneous combustion, a freak gardening accident, choking on someone else's vomit) to the send-off of Yoko Ono in the form of character Jeanine, it is an unrivaled classic, one that set the bar far too high, far too early.
3. "Waiting for Guffman" (1996).
A group of local, eccentric townspeople, with the help of lunatic director Corky St. Clair, put on "Red, White, and Blaine", a musical commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of Blaine, Missouri. The ensemble cast, including Christopher Guest, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, and Eugene Levy, is phenomenal, and, with much of the dialogue being improvised by this stellar group, it gives "Waiting" a unique wit all its own. Christopher Guest -- the man behind "Spinal Tap" -- co-wrote, directed, and starred in this masterpiece, cementing his legacy as the King of Mockumentaries.
4. "Jackie's Back" (1999).
A largely ignored diamond-in-the-rough, "Jackie's Back" follows the forgotten and fictitious R&B diva Jackie Washington as she tries to make a comeback. The only hitch in her plan is that everyone, from her family to her colleagues to her ex-husbands, hates her, and with good reason. Dolly Parton, Chris Rock, Charles Barkley, Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg (as her extremely bitter sister) and a dozen other stars are all interviewed about their horrible, hilarious experiences with Jackie. Thankfully, because it's a made-for-TV movie, and a criminally unknown one, it's on YouTube in its entirety.
5. "Borat" (2006).
Before we all got sick and tired of our friends endlessly quoting it and of seeing memes of Sacha Baron Cohen's nauseating green leotard/speedo, Borat was a riotously funny movie. I shouldn't have to explain the premise behind this one; a Kazakh man named Borat tours America (meeting with real people who truly believe SBC to be an immigrant) to gain an understanding of our culture. This film (and yes, it deserves to be called a film) is a milestone of filmdom for the new millennium. It nearly, singlehandedly, elevated toilet humor to a true art form and though I might gag if I hear another quote from it ever again, was a genius piece of mockumentary filmmaking. It's just too bad Cohen had to follow it up with "Brüno."
"Popstar: Never Stop Stopping" (2016).
This looks like it has potential, but as we've seen from so many of our beloved SNL alumni (everyone who starred in "Grown Ups" -- shame on you all), a large ensemble cast can sometimes spell disaster. But despite my apparent cynicism, I have faith in The Lonely Island and can't wait to see what they manage to do with the vast, vast swath of comedy material in their capable hands.