I was lucky enough to go to a press screening of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never last night. (Friends in high places ;)) How much you like this film is dependent on how much you already like Bieber. I suspect that if you served up any sort of Bieber related content, put it on a cinema screen and let his fans at it they’d love it. But what’s more surprising about this film is that it’s watchable by anyone.
The 3D element is a clever way to make a documentary work on a big screen and increases the amount of visual interest there is in the film. As Bieber reaches out and grabs the air ahead of him, or as the rows of girls frantically wave their hands in the audience, there’s at least something to keep those accompanying younger guest’s attention.
The documentary follows Bieber on an 86 date tour, as his voice threatens to give up and the excitement builds for a show in Madison Square Garden, which is presented as being the holy grail of having ‘made it.’ Interspersed with tributes from the team surrounding him, his friends and family the clichéd messages most commonly attached to children’s films of hope, faith, and belief in yourself are plied on thick and fast. But coming from Bieber, and set alongside his story from talented musician at a tender eight years old, to badgering Usher for the chance to sing to him, to his meteoric fame of now, the message seems to have a lot more credibility.
A light hearted, self mocking tone is present throughout. We see Bieber promising his voice coach that he hasn’t been shouting, immediately followed by footage of his shouting and screaming with his friends. Even a montage of his fans declaring their undying love for him is edited in such a way that you laugh instead of feeling awkward at the exact lengths these girls will go to to get close to him. You almost expect one to say “One time Justin Bieber punched me in the face. It was awesome.” a la Mean Girls to go along with the theme of self parody.
The one problem I have is the exact extent to which we’re seeing the real 16 year old boy. He does indeed come across as normal. His “team” are clearly doing a good job of keeping him grounded, it’s unquestionable that he is extremely grateful for each of his fans and for the privileged position he is in. He’s cheeky, likes the attention of girls and is as vulgar as any other boy his age as he eats a donut found left in the bin. But what there is little of is Bieber in his own words. At no point does he talk genuinely to the camera or speak completely naturally, and how many of the words coming from his mouth have been put there by publicists? As he gives some money to a violinist playing in his home town where he used to bust and tells her to always follow her dreams, it’s hard not to wonder who might have instructed him to do that.
Whilst the film does have elements which makes it read more like a promotional film than a documentary, that’s not to say it isn’t at heart very watchable and even, dare I say it, enjoyable. It goes without saying Bieber fans will leave even more in love with the Bieber brand than when they entered, and those who despise him undoubtedly will find many a reason to continue doing so during the 90 minutes. But the real test is those who are indifferent to his work, and I suspect they’ll find it difficult not to come out a Bieber convert and having seen a fascinating insight into the way in which a star is born in the 21st century.