There are at least two things that I never want to hear from up-and-coming teen entertainers;
- "I've worked my whole life for this" - Um, excuse me? You've worked your whole life for potty training.
- "I've dreamed about this my entire life" - Again, um, the truth is you're a modestly cute and reasonably talented pawn of some adult who wants to exploit your dream for their benefit.
The only reason for you to see Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
is that it's a far more reasonable expenditure than actually shelling out the big bucks to see the teenie-bopper live and in person. For those of you not in the know, Bieber is yet the latest variation of the "teen idol," a mop-topped 16-year-old who rose to fame after his homemade videos were discovered on Youtube and he was flown to Atlanta by promoter "Scooter Braun" and also taken under the wing of R&B crooner Usher. Lately, the young singer has been known to be under the even broader wing of Will Smith following his involvement with Smith's son on The Karate Kid
Now then, if it sounds like this is nothing but a cynical, jaded review of Bieber's concert flick/faux doc then you should think again. Truthfully, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
is for the most part going to work for the people who actually want to see it, mostly young girls who've deemed the young Canadian the best and cutest singer and their parents, who are just hoping that Bieber doesn't take a detour down the road to trampdom like any other number of recent teen stars on their road to more "adult" roles.
As a concert film, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
works in perpetuating the teen idol's squeaky clean and family friendly image while representing his bubblegum pop sound and radio friendly vocals. Will the film win any new fans or any fans over the age of, say, 16?
Not a chance.
Yet, for all its manipulative excesses there's something inherently intriguing about this film that makes you realize the true power of social media to create stardom and, as well, the impact that social media can have on an entertainer's "relationship" with their fans. It's no secret that any number of today's stars are active on the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but few are truly as interactive with their fans as Bieber. For example, Taylor Swift is on Twitter with 5 million fans while only occasionally interacting and actually following less than 50 of them. Kanye? He follows nobody (Why am I not surprised?).
Bieber? The singer has over 7 million followers and, rather astoundingly, follows over 100,000. Does this mean that, quite literally, he interacts will all these folks? Of course not. However, it's symbolic of the way Bieber rose up from Youtube and continues to project himself onto the world as an ordinary teen with an extraordinary life. It also doesn't hurt that he's aligning himself with music and Hollywood's more grounded folks like Antonio Reid and Will Smith.
Much is made in the film about Bieber having sold out Madison Square Garden, one of his "life long dreams," last year in a mere 22 minutes and, in fact, much of the film is wrapped around his preparation for the big concert. Yet, for all the obvious desire to portray Bieber as a normal teen the vast majority of the film proves otherwise as director Jon Chu captures a Bieber who smiles in all the right places and croons in all the familiar ways but who feels uncomfortably detached from the world around him and, most certainly, even from his ever adoring fans. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
makes it clear that Bieber and his fans have an awesome relationship, but never really explores, beyond social networking, exactly "Why?"
While there are a few intriguing 3-D style shots, the film is easily as enjoyable in its 2-D format (unless you do have unsatisfied fantasies about Justin's hair). The film is also, maybe intentionally and maybe not, an intriguing exploration of the machine that surrounds Bieber that is largely helmed by handler Scooter Braun and the garden variety of folks who help guide his career.
The majority of you reading this review, and statistically speaking most of my readers are college-educated women in their late 30's and early 40's, are likely to dismiss this film and have long ago dismissed Justin Bieber. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
lays out a decent argument that this is one young man who may be grounded enough and talented enough to not warrant an immediate dismissal. With energy, enthusiasm and undeniable charisma, Bieber could survive that transition from teen idol to adult entertainer if his handlers keep him on the straight-and-narrow and he keeps himself away from that Disney machine.
Will Bieber's star shine forever? I'm not completely convinced, but never say never.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic