Starring Justin Bieber and his family, friends and fans. Directed by Jon Chu. At major theatres. 105 minutes. GYou wouldn’t want to go to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never expecting anything terribly novel, even with the dubious adornment of 3-D.
Been there, done that, with teen idols and their quickie cinema cash-ins, at least as far back as Elvis and most recently in the third dimension with Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Bros.
No circular device is being reinvented here by the Canuck pop wunderkind and his vast entourage of Svengalis.
But darned if Bieber and director Jon Chu (from the Step Up dance film franchise) don’t come up with something original anyway, the cheesiest stunt yet for a popper’s insta-pic: the camera travelling up Bieber’s throat to show the strained vocal chords that threaten his Madison Square Garden debut last fall.
The TonsilCam shot is an attempt to inject some drama into the rote behind-the-screams chronicle of 16-year-old Bieber’s transformation from a precocious kid from Stratford, Ont. kid into a precocious kid from Stratford, Ont. who now sells millions of albums, fills major arenas and is reportedly worth $100 million.
The skinny kid with the hair like a flash-frozen tsunami now ranks somewhere between the fifth Beatle and the fourth Chipmunk, if breathless reports are to be believed. And anyone who wonders how he achieved this feat in the space of roughly two years will find plenty to sigh over in Never Say Never.
The film makes full use of the gadget-driven narcissism Bieber was born into in 1994, significantly the same year the Internet first cracked the public consciousness.
Despite his hard-luck beginnings as the son of a teen mom in a broken home, young Justin lived like a low-rent version of Jim Carrey’s video-fetishized Truman Burbank from The Truman Show.
Seemingly every moment of Bieber’s life was caught on camera, allowing Chu to show the skyrocket in full flight: from the lad’s earliest living-room performances, to his Stratford street busking, to his fortuitous YouTube warblings that grabbed the attention of Scooter Braun, the U.S. talent scout who now manages Bieber like a 21st-century Col. Tom Parker.
This cache of grainy home videos and family/friend/teacher testimonials, which 3-D does nothing to improve, serves to silence any non-Beliebers who doubt Justin’s musical abilities. He possesses ample chops, including surprisingly good drumming skills, all displayed without a hint of shyness — or humility, for that matter.
There’s a generous selection of performances of such tween-touching hits as “Baby,” “Smile” and “One Less Lonely Girl,” the latter performed on stage as a love croon to a flower-bedecked girl plucked from the concert audience.
And check out that fan base, which includes not just delirious schoolgirls (“He’s cute, he’s awesome, I just love him so much,” one coos to camera), but also a squad of earlier pop sensations coming down from their own sugar highs at various rates of deflation.
It’s instructive and also fascinating to watch the likes of Miley Cyrus, Boyz II Men, Usher, Ludacris and Jaden Smith (identified as a “karate expert”) all bum-rushing Bieber’s stage, hoping to borrow some of that lightning he still has in his bottle.
Smith’s preening is positively vampiric, since he’s an actor and not a concert performer, and his inexperience and crass opportunism really show. Just last summer he was living large as the star of The Karate Kid remake; does success now have a shelf life shorter than Wonder Bread?
What Bieber has in greater abundance than anything or anyone is sheer determination. Watching him plow through an 86-show tour and numerous other celebrity duties, all while preparing for his omigod! MSG debut, suggest he’d literally walk through walls if it would benefit his career.
We’re told that he has performed with a broken foot, with strep throat and in the middle of a rainstorm before 40 soaked fans.
Not all at the same time, thankfully, but such stoicism makes the hammy theatrics with the TonsilCam and the fretting over his New York gig seem just a tad on the suspicious side.
You don’t know whether to damn Bieber and Chu for manipulating our emotions or praise them for trying to put some essence into this effervescence.
“Everything relies on two little strips of fiber in his throat,” cautions Jan “Mama Jan” Smith, Bieber’s vocal coach and 24/7 nag.
With all due props to Mama, the Justin Bieber phenomenon is about way more than the singing.
It’s about believing in yourself, and never giving up until that last cash register ka-chings — really, Mama, haven’t you been paying attention?