Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jon M Chu.
Is this the revealing, candid, warts-and-all documentary about the precocious 19-year-old pop star the world has been waiting for? Unfortunately, no!
Rather than explore Beiber’s bizarre behaviour on tour, the drug busts and the partying lifestyle, this is a lightweight hagiography, a puff piece squarely aimed at his legion of breathless and devoted prepubescent fans for whom he can do little wrong. Shot during his recent extensive world tour, Believe is essentially another concert film, albeit interspersed with a few talking heads interviews and a glimpse behind the scenes of team Beiber. But since the film has been produced by Beiber and his long time manager and friend Scooter Bruan, audiences shouldn’t expect any dirt to be unearthed here, and the filmmakers go out of their way to promote his squeaky clean image.
Asked whether he will become another celebrity train wreck like Lindsay Lohan, Beiber responds that he won’t. “I have a good head on my shoulders,” he responds. But the paparazzi who have delighted in reporting on his bad behaviour, his visits to strip clubs and brothels and the drug busts, would probably disagree. There is one sequence devoted to Beiber’s devotion to Avalannah Routh, a terminally ill six-year old fan, but some of this material is cringe worthy and risks seeming insincere and manipulative. And Beiber comes across as barely articulate in his interviews, so the producers wisely keep the attempts at probing interviews mercifully brief.
The director here is Jon M Chu (GI Joe: Retaliation, etc), who directed the previous Beiber documentary Never Say Never, and who was responsible for designing the current tour. He certainly knows what the audience wants and he delivers. Thus we get lots of shots of Beiber on stage, lots of shots of him sans shirt, and shots of him at play and writing lyrics in his hotel room.
There is plenty of concert footage, and the staging of the live shows is quite elaborate and spectacular, with lots of pyrotechnics and dancers, and interaction with the fans. But are the visuals an attempt to distract from the lack of substance to his innocuous music? There are also shots of hysterically screaming fans; but just to demonstrate that this kind of adulation is not a new phenomenon, Chu has cleverly incorporated some grainy black and white footage of fans screaming for their idols The Beatles some fifty years earlier. Some things never change.
But this superficial documentary has even failed to appeal to fans, and has bombed at the US box office. Chu and co say that this film is all about Beiber’s growth as an artists, and his journey. But Believe is not really a probing exploration of the price of success and fame. Whereas Never Say Never, which charted his rise from obscurity, has become the biggest grossing concert film of all time, Believe has sunk with barely a whimper at the box office as fans have stayed away in droves.
Maybe the truth about the real Beiber is out there. And that is probably what people want to see rather than this slickly produced but superficial and self-promoting 90-minute commercial.