WARNING! No matter what age you are “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” will make you feel old. The story of a pop prodigy who mastered a drum kit before entering the double digits and sold out Madison Square Gardens when he was barely old enough to drive will make you wonder what you have done with your life.
This documentary – concert film hybrid, which could be more rightly called “Portrait of a Sensation,” follows Bieber from his humble beginnings with single mom Patti in Stratford, Ontario to YouTube sensation to sharing the stage with Miley Cyrus and Jaden Smith at Madison Square Garden. It’s an up-close-and-personal look at the star. So up-close-and-personal we even get a shot of his vocal chords!
Bieber, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, is the singing sensation who Tiny Fey describes as looking like “a dreamy Christmas elf.” After being discovered singing covers of chart hits on YouTube he was mentored by hip hop star Usher when he was only in grade eight and is now the heartthrob du jour for tweens everywhere. One young girl admits to thinking about him “99% of my life,” while another teen confidently announces, “I’ll be his first wife.” Lock up your daughters; it’s Bieber Time.
Generally these kind of music bios offer up lots of music with some exclusive backstage footage and embarrassing childhood photos wedged between the tunes, and by and large that’s what “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” provides, but it also paints a portrait of a real kid in a very unreal situation.
It wasn’t that long ago that he was playing for 40 or so fans at a water park in Poughkeepsie, New York—2009 to be exact—and now he’s selling out Madison Square Gardens in 22 minutes. It’s been a wild ride and we get a sense of that in the movie, of the hard work and talent that got him to where he is, but don’t expect any searing personal insights.
We learn that he’s very close to his family, that he behaves like any other sixteen year old kid would when he isn’t on stage, and that he still gets told to clean his room by his grandmother but there is little light shone on how his rise to fame has really affected him. We’re told that he sometimes “whines” that he doesn’t have a normal life and his Stratford buddies complain that they don’t get to see him everyday anymore, but there is very little from Bieber himself. Maybe it’s too early to tell how all this will affect him, after all it has all happened rather quickly, but some insight from the star himself would have made this more interesting.
Still the movie seems less contrived than you might imagine from someone at the very peak of teen stardom. It’s interesting to compare Bieber to his Disney and Nickelodeon colleagues. Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers, for example, all have tightly controlled public personas, but Bieber, who hasn’t been pushed through the Disney / Nickelodeon sausage factory, seems far less manufactured. Perhaps it’s because he’s Canadian, but Bieber comes across as earnest, not contrived. Maybe it’s the difference between well-managed rather than prepackaged.
“Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” has some touching moments—hearing his grandparents talk about their grandson’s movie to Atlanta to follow his career—some odd moments—Snoop Dogg discussing hair styles—some self depreciating moments—a slo mo hair flip montage is funny—and lots of standard teen dream music. It’s bound to be a fan favorite but a little more depth might have opened up its appeal to people not yet infected with Bieber Fever.