On ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,’ the movie 2016 forgot

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
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I remember seeing The Lonely Island’s “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” at the movie theater. Apparently, I was one of the few people who did.

It was the weekend I officially moved to Berkeley, and the plan was to see a double feature of movies that weren’t playing at the theaters back home: “Popstar” and “The Lobster.” Needless to say, the cinematic experiences on my double bill were very different from one another.

It looked like the audiences were switched for the two movies, however — while the “Lobster” room was full of 20-year-old wannabe intellectuals (like me, I suppose), I spotted several groups of older, white-haired folks in the “Popstar” crowd. I actually thought I’d walked into the wrong theater. But get this: I didn’t see one person walk out of that “Popstar” screening without a huge grin on their face.

After thoroughly enjoying the film and going home to search online for a maroon Style Boyz sweatshirt (like the one worn in the movie when the boys perform the “donkey roll” dance), I later found out that “Popstar” wasn’t doing well at the box office. Famous people were tweeting about its brilliance. Adam Levine and Andy Samberg performed the frustratingly catchy song “I’m So Humble” on “The Voice.” A digital short for “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” was circulating YouTube. And yet, no one was biting.

It was confusing. I’m a part of the generation that would turn on MTV and see Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and T-Pain singing “I’m on a Boat.” We pretended we didn’t think “Dick in a Box” was hilarious, then kept up the act when “Motherlover” debuted. So why didn’t we also want to support The Lonely Island’s newest opus?

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is one of the most clever comedies in recent years and no doubt the most stupidly brilliant of 2016. Conner4real, played by Samberg, skyrockets to fame after leaving his boy band, Justin Timberlake-style, to become a solo artist. Conner is delightfully stupid and wholeheartedly agrees with his fans that he’s hot shit — until his new album is poorly-received. Committed, dead-serious cameos from the likes of Questlove, Mariah Carey and Ringo Starr as a part of the film’s charming mockumentary approach make Conner out to be a life-altering music icon. Even the idea that The Lonely Island reps actually had to reach out to Ringo fucking Starr for an appearance in this wild movie is unreal.

I swear that 20 minutes through “Popstar” — right around the time Chelsea Peretti, Mike Birbiglia and Eric Andre laugh maniacally as parody TMZ staffers — I was thinking, “My god, this is going to be a classic.”

Some outlets initially promoted the film as a parody of Justin Bieber, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a commentary on the ridiculousness of music, television, documentaries, marketing, fame, awards, social media — everything those young intellectuals from my screening of “The Lobster” live for. The songs from the movie — including lyrics like “Mona Lisa, I got to know / Where the fuck are your eyebrows?” and “My apple crumble is by far the most crumble-est” — are the parody strain of eloquent poetry, not to mention more catchy than most noise on the radio.

“Popstar” features great songs, smartly satirizes today’s pop culture and brings back our beloved The Lonely Island boys. Present all of that at the box office alongside “The Lobster,” a wonderful but bleak and heady satire of love in modern culture, and people want the darker option. “The Lobster” fared better financially, all without the bells and whistles of “Saturday Night Live,” a promotional Twitter or an appearance from an ex-member of The Beatles.

I’m not saying that “Popstar” is better or smarter than “The Lobster,” but the thing is, I’m more in the minority than I first thought. What I’ve realized is that the Lonely Island might have more of a niche audience than a Yorgos Lanthimos film.

Now, as awards season approaches, the blatant disregard for “Popstar” is more disappointing than ever. I want Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer to be at the Golden Globes or Oscars or anything that will validate how brilliant their movie is. That sounds ridiculous, right? Just imagine the dudes from 2007’s “Hot Rod” holding an Oscar for Best Original Song. But if anyone supported the film outside of the comedy community, it was critics.

What I’m seeing from Hollywood is another failure to take comedy as a serious representation of artistic merit. “Popstar” isn’t the only victim this year — Mike Birbiglia’s poignant, sweet and funny film “Don’t Think Twice” (with a 99% Rotten Tomatoes rating, mind you) has been all but tossed aside as just another cute production from the kids at the comedy table. The only saving grace for comedic films this year is “Deadpool,” which, in a welcome and refreshing surprise, earned Golden Globe nominations. Maybe the Lonely Island should cast Ryan Reynolds in their next film to get some eyes looking in their direction.

I’m just so tired of seeing good comedy go unrecognized. “Popstar” deserves more. For real.

Danielle Gutierrez covers comedy. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @dmariegutierrez.