Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Jon M Chu, Davis Guggenheim.
Canadian teenager Justin Bieber is something of a pop sensation – a self taught musical prodigy who launched his music career through the social networking site YouTube. From those beginnings he has, in a couple of short years, grown into an international star, selling millions of records.
Never Say Never offers a rather superficial portrait of Bieber; there are not a lot of startling revelations here, but there is plenty to provide instant gratification for his fan base of hysterical, screaming prepubescent girls. There is lots of home video footage of a young Bieber playing the drums, busking on the streets of his hometown of Stratford, and participating in talent quests. This documentary is structured around his grueling 86 city concert tour in 2010, which culminated in a sold out show at New York’s famous Madison Square Gardens, a venue that has hosted the likes of Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elton John and The Rolling Stones.
Obviously he has some very talented people behind him, as his stage show is quite spectacular, with lots of pyrotechnics, dazzling light shows, back up dancers, and even some guest appearances from the likes of Miley Cyrus, his mentor Usher, and even Jaden Smith (from The Karate Kid remake). The concert footage itself is filmed in 3D, although the process is unnecessary. Choreographer Jon M Chu has directed films like Step Up 3D, etc, and he certainly brings some energy and flashy visuals to the live concert sequences. He has been given plenty of access to the star backstage.
There are lots of interviews with key members of Bieber’s entourage including promoter Scooter Braun, who is also credited as one of the producers. However, there is very little from Bieber himself. However, original director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, etc) may have avoided the air of hagiography that occasionally seeps into the film and given the material a sharper edge. A lot of potentially interesting material about his background is left largely unexplored – his mother gave birth to him when she was 18, his father abandoned the family, and his doting grand parents helped raise him.
At one point Bieber is described as “the Macaulay Culkin of pop music.” Madonna once observed that we robbed Michael Jackson of his childhood, and Bieber’s entourage expresses a hope that the same thing doesn’t happen to him. Thus there is some footage of him being a normal teenager, hanging out with his best buds, shooting hoops at his former high school, and eating pizza. It’s not hard to draw a parallel between his spectacular rise to fame and other teen pop idols, like Leif Garret, David Cassidy, some recent boy bands, most of whom were worshipped by hordes of teenage girls more for their pin-up looks than their music. Some of these teen idols fell by the wayside when both they and their fans matured.
Bieber’s pop songs are certainly catchy, but they are also quite simple lyrically, and his songs about love and lonely girls appeal to his audience. If he is to endure beyond adolescence he needs to develop as a songwriter, and find more meaningful lyrics. Even those guardians and parents who are reluctantly coerced into accompanying their young daughters to the film won’t be totally bored.
Bieber’s glib “live your dreams and never say never” philosophy is reinforced continuously throughout the film, providing some sort of inspirational message to his legion of adoring fans. This is not a biopic – after all, how much of note can one cram into a mere 16 years? However, despite early misgivings, this documentary/concert film is better than one expects, especially considering the rather bland Jonas Brothers Concert Experience in 3D from a couple of years ago.
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