Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

The eagerly awaited “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” could be analyzed on any number of levels. It’s certainly one of the most commercially driven concert films, meant to offer the teen’s hardcore fans immediate gratification.  But it also aims at making a global star out of a teenager who’s already a phenom.

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On a more general level, the movie reaffirms a number of myths that prevail in American showbiz.  For example, the  notions that you need to have “some” talent” in order to rise to the top, that opportunities may be just as important as raw (or cultivated) talent, that calculated management and planned promotion are crucial factors for superstardom these days.

Based on what’s seen on screen, Justin Bieber is a talented, charismatic, and ambitious idol, a teen who had worked hard (and continues to work hard) and knows how to appreciate his overnight stardom and those who have helped him get there—rather quickly.

With the exception of Hollywood’s child-stars, it’s hard to think of many idols that were that young when they became a sensation.  Singers, such as Cliff Richards, Pat Boone, Elvis Presley, and Ricky Nelson were almost a decade older than Justin Bieber by the time that made appearances on the big screen.

The only similar cases I can think of are the Jonas Brothers, who had made a concert film in 2009, just as their popularity began to decline; it might have been too late to catapult them back to superstardom.

Once you accept the notion that this concert film is essentially a promotional tool and marketing device benefiting from the new technologies (3D) and the new social media, you can begin to observe that there’s something “special” about Justin Bieber, though it’s impossible to predict how long it would last.

Structurally, “Never say Never” combines the strategies of a legit documentary with footage we have come to expect from a concert film.

As always with such fare, the material is uneven.  Moments of candor and honesty alternate with moments that smack of sheer commercialism and advertisement. The sequences in which a star is shown shirtless are clearly targeted at the female contingency of his fans.  (On the cover of the Hollywood Reporter, Bieber sports a new hairstyle) .  On the plus side, there are some intimate interviews  and personal footage, though even at the end, Bieber remains too vague.

The Tale begins with an onscreen email inbox opening up to YouTube clips of laughing babies and homemade viral clips.

There is some funny, semi-revelatory backstage footage.  Biographical chapters chronicle of his a childhood with a single, religiously devout teenage mother (she was only 18) in small-town Canada, followed by the emergence and detection of his precocious musical talent.

A good deal of the footage comes from Bieber’s smash performance last year at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which was notoriously sold out in less than 22 minutes.

The more interesting footage documents his early and ongoing relationships with record-label Svengali Scooter Braun and superstar mentor Usher (both of whom serve as producers of the movie).  Braun describes his “nasty” habit of teasing ticketless fans outside concert venues before handing them free seats as a way of “giving back.”

There is a nice duet with the gifted Miley Cyrus, and one of the highpoints is the set-closing “Baby,” arguably Bieber’s most iconic song.  But there may be too many MTV-like montages of abrupted glimpses into his persona and private life, and too many half songs.

Totally unfazed, Bieber is quite comfortable with the lavish attention that he gets, and with the film crews and cameras around him.  Certainly not naïve, Bieber displays a good deal of professionalism in his attitude and conduct.  But he also shows some healthy dosage of humor about the “Bieber Fever” phenomenon, manifest in a slo-mo sequence of Bieber flipping his famous hair to the tunes of Etta James’ “At Last.”

Since Bieber is one of the producers, it’s impossible to tell what autonomy—or what specific roles the nominal director, Jon M. Chu, had played in shooting and editing the footage.

Historically, Bieber my well be the first pop star who’s a total creation of the new social media.  There is not doubt that he can sing, play the guitar and drums, move swiftly, play to the crowds, and exude warmth and charm.  Nonetheless, the whole concert movie can be seen as a quest for a more legitimate and traditional respect.

The timing of Paramount’s release is perfect, not to mention the G rating, considering the awards and media attention to the teen idol, who is on the cover of the HR and has recently appeared in the Daily Show and David Letterman.

Cast

Justin Bieber, Boyz II Men, Miley Cyrus, Sean Kingston, Ludacris, Jaden Smith, Usher, Snoop Dogg, Mama Jan Smith, Scooter Braun, Randy Phillips, Pattie Mallette.

Credits

A Paramount release and presentation of a Scooter Braun Films and L.A. Reid Media production in association with AEG Live.

Produced by Braun, Justin Bieber, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Usher Raymond IV, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz. Executive producers, David Nicksay, Randy Phillips, Doug Merrifield.

Co-producer, Jonathan McHugh.

Directed by Jon M. Chu.

Camera, Reed Smoot.

Editors, Avi Youabian, Jay Cassidy, Jillian Moul.

Music, Deborah Lurie; music supervisor, Kuk Harrell.

Art director, Stephen Carter.

Sound, John D. McCormick, Joshua Anderson, Michael Frohberg, Paul Reed, L. Wyatt Tyzo; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Tim Chau;

Re-recording mixers, David E. Fluhr, Chau; stereographer, Vincent Pace.

Associate producer, Archie Gips.

Assistant director, David H. Venghaus.

MPAA Rating: G.

Running time: 105 Minutes.