Just what the world needed; a new version of Madonna’s iconic documentary In Bed with Madonna focused around a barely pubescent boy pop singer. I know what you’re thinking, and for some readers there will be no budging on the predisposed opinion they have of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, but for some this documentary about the now 17-year-old music sensation may prove an eye-opening, if still fundamentally flawed, experience. The slavish devotion of Justin Bieber’s fans – predominantly “tween” girls, but all ages are welcome – will be unchanged after this film and may just earn the guy a few new ones along the way.
Taking the time-honoured structure of many other similar documentaries – last year’s Celine: Through the Eyes of the World is particularly identical – Never Say Never weaves concert footage with backstage footage plus old home movies, talking head interviews and enough fandemonium montages to burn out the filmmakers’ copy of Final Cut Pro. It’s a mass-marketing effort sure, but a surprisingly entertaining one.
From its opening moments that include inspirational quotes that I swear we’ve seen in everything from A Star is Born to Glitter, Never Say Never is an often fascinating look at pure and utter fan devotion. On more than one occasion it’s like watching a Hillsong congregation; one girl even calls Justin “my saviour”. Crowd shots during his performances look less like dancing teens and more like a horde of orcs from The Lord of the Rings under the spell of Sauron’s eye in the form of this wispy-haired moppet.
Personally, I’d never heard a single Justin Bieber song before and in between all the soppy ballads and ridiculous up-tempo jams about “time running out for love” (lyrics almost as stomach-churning as the multiple scenes of Bieber without a shirt on!) the kid occasionally stumbles across a quality pop tune like “Somebody to Love” or “One Time”. Even if I didn’t care for the music, this kid is clearly talented. One view of early busking footage will prove that and his drum, piano and guitar playing skills are top notch.
The interviews with family and managers are rudimentary and unilluminating – he’s just living a dream, okay?! – but every now and then a nugget of truth springs forth. As a technical exercise, it’s equally slapdash with awful 3D, which is a shame since director Jon Chu used it so well in Step Up 3D. Never Say Never’s existence is a telling sign of our times, but one that’s worthy of being documented. In the end, this film deserved to be made purely for the scene in which Justin swishes his hair in slow motion to the croons of Etta James’ “At Last”, a truly inspired and winking target to his detractors.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was released nationally in Australia on April 7th
Director: Jon Chu
Featuring: Justin Bieber, Usher, Jaden Smith, Miley Cyrus, Boys II Men, Sean Kingston and Ludacris