Film Review: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

Let the shrieking commence: Jon M. Chu's documentary, although a mite extended, makes you realize exactly why Justin Bieber is King of the World.

The pubescent and even younger Lolitas at the screening of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never began shrieking and squealing just walking into the theatre. With the doll-like perfection of his pretty Bambi-eyed face, lithe and lean 16-year-old frame and, most essentially, amazing Claudette Colbert helmet of banged hair, Bieber is utterly camera-proof and all this, coupled with the husky yet honeyed tones of his startlingly mature, sublimely audio-genic voice (no squeaky-shrill pop idol he), make it small wonder that he is so universally idolized by generations of females, not to mention more than a few susceptible guys.

The film is a complete Bieber immersion, recounting the rise of this multi-talented show-biz phenomenon from his undoubtedly rocking cradle in Stratford, Ontario to the fraught ten-day period leading up to his debut concert at that Holy Grail of venues, Madison Square Garden. Directed with pitiless efficiency by Jon M. Chu, it might feel a trifle long at 105 minutes—there is only so much anyone can say about a 16-year-old pop star of three years, however gifted—but he keeps things popping along, giving the fans what they want. This includes numerous shots of a shirtless Bieber, which elicited Pavlovian audience screams and made anyone of a more advanced age feel just a tad creepy. There's a very funny tribute to the star's infamous hair, with him narcissistically shaking it in slow motion and Snoop Dogg advising him to emulate his own pigtails, as "the extra stuff you can put on the ends gives the girls more to play with!"

Bieber's legions of obsessed fans provide most of the real fun here, depending upon how much of a stomach you have for grade-schoolers announcing their terrifyingly serious intention to be his wife. Bieber's crew have a certain number of extra concert tickets which they hand out to lucky hopefuls before every show and, watching the ecstatic reactions of the favored ones ("You're a saint!" "This is the greatest moment of my life!"), God himself might well be jealous of the power they wield. Another tradition has him pulling one girl out of the audience to sing to—a probable life-changing experience for them—but I wish the chosen hadn't all been so typically pretty and thin. (There are a lot of heavier, bespectacled, braces-wearing Bieber-ites out there whose devotion is no less intense.)

Moments of real emotion do pierce through all the Dolby-generated hype: Bieber's grandfather (who tenderly raised him when his natural father, in one of the dumbest moves in human history, deserted him as a baby) tearing up as he recalls the day Justin and his single mom left home to pursue stardom; the early years when the preternaturally assured Bieber struggled, fearlessly performing on the street outside a local theatre. He was discovered on YouTube by his present manager, Scooter Braun, who figures prominently and doesn't seem to be too much of a weasel, although he once faced criminal charges pertaining to a Long Island personal appearance event which was cancelled, causing crowd hysteria and injuries. Braun was accused of not Twittering the truth about the cancellation early enough, as he'd promised to, and it's interesting that social networking figures in this film—as with the development of Bieber's fan base—every bit as pervasively as in The Social Network. Important Bieber mentors Usher and L.A. Reid also weigh in, voicing their predictable awe at the kid's talent.

The movie has been rather needlessly shot in 3D, which is actually only used for the concert sequences and even then is less than impressive, with requisite moments of Bieber pointing a finger or throwing things at the camera. The real excitement is provided by Bieber's charismatic stage presence and some snappy choreography. His music is listenable and catchy in that first-hearing-hook way, if not particularly memorable, with the upbeat numbers by far more effective than the ballads, which are rife with the kind of shamelessly bald sentiment only a teenage composer could get away with.
Once the film started, those hordes of excitable girls were surprisingly subdued (apart from those shirtless moments), perhaps hypnotized into silence by the monumental, big-screen expanse of their idol's image. But it certainly lived up to every one of their expectations, I'm sure, as I heard one excitedly cell-phoning afterwards: "Mom, I loved it! I cried! I laughed! I danced!"