Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Directed by: Jon M. Chu Cast: Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Sean Kingston, Boyz II Men, Usher Raymond IV Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: G Release Date: February 11, 2011
PLOT: A 3D movie about the life of 16-year-old pop star Justin Bieber. Never Say Never also shows footage of his sold out concert at the monumental Madison Square Garden.
WHO'S IT FOR? Not just for his fans. If you like to keep up with the more interesting, thought-provoking experiences that can be offered at the multiplex, this isn't one you should miss. Leaving the theater as a converted "Belieber" is not at all necessary.
As a concert film, Never Say Never certainly gives the fans what they want. Each musical number, which takes mostly from Bieber's singles, is fairly memorable, and often features a musical guest (even if that means Boyz II Men are singing back-up for him). With every song catered to be a special event, the entire concert is a fan-pleasing extravaganza, captured in surprisingly good 3D (though everything else is in 2D).
But Never Say Never is not just a musical documentary, nor is it Justin Bieber’s own insignificant debut/invasion into another medium (this isn’t his version of Britney Spears' Crossroads). For the way that it reflects the obsessive nature that pop culture feeds upon, this is an epic film with no better fitting comparison than Bernardo Bertolucci’s massive movie, The Last Emperor. That film utilized hundreds and hundreds of extras for cinema-expanding shots, and told the tale of a young boy, Emperor Puyi, who ruled over China before he could even wipe for himself. Never Say Never achieves an importance and size very close to this, and focuses it around a pivotal sold-out musical performance, captured in vivid 3D.
When an entire “musical documentary” is made about a person’s life story, should the intimacy barrier between performer and audience should be even more eradicated? For outsiders, for those who don’t have their lives invested in Bieber (they call themselves “Beliebers”), one might expect this to function something like a regular concert DVD. There’d be interviews, some shenanigans, and a performance.
For this strangely fascinating piece of pop worship, this is not the case.
The earlier reference to Chinese emperor Puyi and Justin Bieber is not an exaggeration. Director Jon Chu takes the task of making a movie about Justin Bieber and turns it into a piece that worships on its hands and knees at the power of Bieber, featuring entire armies of teenage girls who are devoted to him and his music endlessly (even though he’s only released two albums of new material). Like Puyi in the beginning of The Last Emperor’s story, we also don't get a full grasp of what it's like for Justin to have all of this power and responsibility put upon him. Instead, he remains mostly stoic. Bieber’s manager and lucky Youtube searcher, Scooter Braun, speaks to the masses (the film’s viewers) for him instead. His grandparents and mother make him out to be a miracle child whose musical talent comes from unknown origin. Various musicians pop in and speak praises about Justin Bieber, but the 16-year-old himself does not speak. While we witness his rising to power, we hardly see Bieber practicing (like every other musician ever does). And when he is on his throne (on stage), he has the entire audience of Madison Square Garden 100% at his command. Later, he hovers above his audience in a giant metallic heart, adorned in a holy white outfit (with a purple hood). Whenever he is in public, his fans reach out to get a glimpse of this member of pop royalty, or if they're even lucky, touch him.
Chu’s presentation of Bieber and his life story is incredibly guarded. Pop stars are treated by their admirers like princes and princesses, but this movie wants us to see Justin Bieber as royalty. Whether it was intended or not, Chu creates a stunning mysticism about his subject, something that in turn makes us feel like we don’t know the true Justin Bieber. It’s if as he is not allowed to speak in the movie, for that would destroy his omnipotence. It would make him a real human being, and not just a pop fixation geared to embody and harp on the woes that irk those who create his fanbase (when they’re not busy worshiping him).
Never Say Never presents Justin Bieber as the chosen one, except the "god-like" powers are put upon us and our technologies. We are the ones who have picked him, with the guidance of Youtube views and amounts of Tweets. Whereas he is clearly another gear in the pop factory, (L.A Reid is the only one frank enough to really admit that Bieber is where he is because of his face, not just his voice) the film tunes into the heart of his fans' declarations that they'll "love him forever," etc. If it wasn't Justin Bieber, then someone else would be in those purple suede shoes. Though the truth is inevitable, Never Say Never gloriously disregards the fact that being a pop star is a revolving door responsibility.
The once playful phrase “Bieber Fever” is given a striking definition by the film when it occasionally gives us glimpses into the intensity of his fans. They’re usually wearing shirts or carrying signs adorned with his face or name, declaring undying love to Justin Bieber to the extent of claiming him as a future husband. Sometimes, talking about Justin Bieber even leads to tearful confessions from fans young and older (college age). These are moments where the film reaches a Jesus Camp level of eerie hysteria. Other moments reach strangely pornographic, such as when the film stops to show Justin Bieber doing his famous hair flip in slow motion. At the same time, these segments stand as just a couple of examples that make this movie an intriguing piece that reflects and feeds on our obsession to worship those in pop power.
In this newest dynasty of pop, as evidenced by the regal Never Say Never, we have morphed some musical Canadian kid from Youtube with a marketable face into our latest pop emperor.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10