Call him ‘hair’ apparent to pop music royalty. Justin Bieber is crowned as this generation’s teenage dream with ‘Never Say Never,’ a colorful paen to the young singer and the epic fan ‘fever’ that continues to rage. And while this quasi-documentary goes to great lengths to give fans a show, it is also a curiously bland 3D portrait lacking any real insight or dimension on their idol. Get the download below:
The extraordinary journey of Canadian-born pop star Justin Bieber is surely worthy of a filmed exploration, which may have been the intent of Never Say Never. While the music industry has grappled poorly with the advent of the Internet, he is a living, breathing example of what power can be harnessed from the social networking age. Discovered from a series of YouTube videos, Bieber’s ascension to pop star occurred without the benefit of a traditional machine, i.e. the Disney or Nickelodeon farms for tween idols. With a career shepheded by manager Scooter Braun and music titan Usher, the Bieber model is one to study. Never Say Never attempts to detail his shrewd trajectory to superstardom, a story framed by the preparation for his playing a dream arena show at Madison Square Garden in 2010. Yet, somehow the film instead plays more like a promotional video for brand Bieber.
Directed by Jon M. Chu (Step Up 3D), Never Say Never is an extraordinarily controlled chronicle, with each image and statement from his family, team and celebrities (Snoop Dogg?) carefully put into place, much like his trademarked fringe. An extensive collection of multi-media footage is used to document his story, a striking example of just how present cameras are in our viral lives. The 16 year-old native of Stratford, Ontario proved a precocious child, exhibiting an enormous talent and pure voice that belied his young age. Watching him grow from playing on toy drums to performing on the streets of Stratford makes for the film’s best moments, which go a long way in justifying the constant adoration from his family, team and, of course, screaming fans. The feeling is lost, however, whenever the film returns its focus to the Madison Square Garden show countdown.
The Bieber machine is a formidable one, with manager Braun taking point in explaining just how enormous a talent his young charge possesses. In fact, what is the most curious aspect of Never Say Never is that Bieber is never given the chance to represent himself with interview footage. Given that this is probably the first real star show of this kind since Madonna: Truth or Dare, at least the Material Girl planted herself squarely at the center of her own story. Audiences do get big sections of Bieber being himself in a variety of expected way (going home, rehearsing, hanging with his buddies), it is disappointing that we never get to hear what he thinks about life as ‘”Justin Bieber, star.” Instead, the film offers up for some very awkward moments of trying to show him beng “real,” the hardest to watch being his contrived meeting a young girl playing violin in Stratford.
In this era of branding and packaging, Never Say Never never rises above the reality that this “documentary” is more about the selling and reinforcement of Bieber’s image and not reflect a sincere mirror on the person. It is almost unfair to wage a negative critique on the film because its ultimate intent is to play to the fans, nothing more or less. Ironically, it is almost reassuring to watch the mania that surrounds Bieber. Why? Because it proves that the music industry still has that power to make pop idols strong enough to cause the swooning fervor displayed throughout the film. It is a rite of passage to have an idol and many adults are surely scratcing their heads as to why this particular voice now. (Just witness the vast collection of fan videos that fill the screen cut in time to one Bieber’s biggest hits.)
It is a bit of a mystery as to why the Chu opted to create the strange narrative of “will he or won’t he perform at Madison Square Garden” when the strain of the tour nearly strips Bieber of his voice. Given that the concert footage is from the MSG show, this thread lands with a cloying thud. He performed, period.The shrewd economics of shooting the concert in 3D certainly puts the “business” in this “show,” but this is the only time Bieber is presented any real dimension. Judging from the piercing screams that puncuated certain points of Never Say Never during a recent media screening, his fans won’t mind one bit.
THE FINAL WORD: ‘Justin Bieber: Never Say Never’ will certainly raise the temperature for his legion of fans, even if it leaves the rest of the audience cold. (Two and half stars out five.)
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is now playing citywide. Check out Fandango, MovieTickets and NCM for tickets and theater information.
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