Never Say Never is a documentary that takes us into the factory that manufactured Justin Bieber. Don’t get me wrong. Bieber has energy, musicianship, a smile as thick and full as his hair, and genuine comic flair (check him out with Dana Carvey’s Church Lady on SNL). But isn’t 16 (he’ll hit 17 on March 1st) a little young for a cinematic monument? Just sayin’.
Yes, fans, Never Say Never is also a 3D concert film to delight the shy 13-year-old with braces that lives in all of us. Bieber fever spikes big time when our star pulls a fan from the audience at every show to sing “One Less Lonely Girl.” Still there are tolerance levels to consider. The Bieb croons “baby baby baby baby” more times than Lindsay Lohan pleads “not guilty.” After a while the movie starts to feel like lethal injection by bubblegum.
There is a mitigating “but.” Never Say Never exerts a tantalizing, even perverse, fascination even without meaning to. Not in the concert scenes, which gin up suspense by making us that think that JB’s throat infection might stall his Manhattan concert debut at Madison Square Garden. Talk about a fake out. It’s Bieber’s own story that pulls you in. He was born in Canada to a teen mom, Patti Mallette, dad, Jeremy Bieber, moving on to marry and have two more children. Home movies show us a talented tot drum beating a chair. YouTube videos show that gift develop enough to attract Scooter Braun as a manager and Usher as a mentor. The movie, with appearances by all of the above, barely skims the surface of those years. What we do see is mom, dad, Braun, Usher, vocal coach Mama Jan Smith and the burgeoning Team Bieber claiming they only want the best for the boy as he goes through a punishing 84-date concert tour. Group hug.
The most telling moment in the film comes when Bieber and Braun recall Madonna’s remarks regarding Michael Jackson and how fame robbed him of his childhood. “Don’t let that happen to me,” says Bieber. The chorus of “never” that follows doesn’t really allay concerns. When director Jon M. Chu isn’t focused on the screaming fans, you can see those concerns seep into the fabric of film. A faux-sexy Bieber duet on “Overboard” with a scarily assertive Miley Cyrus is its own cautionary fable, as is the Bieber rap with
Jaden Smith, 12, on “Never Say Never,” the theme from Smith’s film, The Karate Kid. You can practically hear all the promotional elements click into place. Maybe I’m reading too much into a movie meant only as a slick souvenir for Bieber fans. Maybe not.