BY KATE DAWSON
When it was announced last August that Paramount Pictures was prepping a motion picture about Justin Bieber’s life, the general reaction was, shall we say, a scoff. The guy was only 16 years old at the time, had only produced two studio albums, and had really only been on people’s radar for a couple of years. Considering other musical biopics that have come out in recent times (Joan Jett’s The Runaways, John Lennon’s Nowhere Boy, Michael Jackson’s This Is It, Bob Dylan’s I’m Not There, The Beatles’ Across The Universe and so on), it seemed ludicrous that someone so young could have a “life story” so early in his career. Of course, the typical backlash associated with the teen sensation was to be expected; Bieber faces just as much criticism (mostly male) as he does admiration from his adoring (mostly female) fans. Details of the film’s release were leaked over the course of the next few months: it was to be directed by the man responsible for both the Step Up sequels; it would use the latest 3D technology; the promotional 3D glasses were bright purple; and finally the movie would be named after Bieber’s hit song used in The Karate Kid remake, Never Say Never (featuring Will Smith’s wannabe-rapper son Jaden). All of these things evoked positive reactions from Bieber’s horde of screaming tween fans, and more moaning and groaning from his “haters”.
Personally, I’ve never had anything against the kid. Being female, I suppose I have less of a tendency to find him annoying, but I do honestly enjoy his music and appreciate his talent. My knowledge of Bieber before seeing this movie was that he was discovered on YouTube, fought over by Usher and Justin Timberlake, knows how to play a couple of instruments, can dance really well and has quite a girlish voice. Other than that, I would hear his songs or see his videos on occasion and think “Yeah, the kid’s not bad.” Seeing all the fuss young girls make over him didn’t particularly irk me, in fact I found it pretty amusing. I’ve always thought he was cute, but mostly in a wait-five-years-then-we’ll-talk kind of way. Apart from that, I had no feelings towards him, good or bad. When I heard about this movie, I was among those thinking it was a horrible idea. I mean, what on earth would they show for 110 minutes about a 16 year old? Sure, he’s got that whole Beatlemania thing going on but really, the only people who are going to want to see that on the big screen already love him enough! I just couldn’t see how this movie would convince a non-Bieber fan that he is the real deal. Boy, was I wrong.
Within the first five minutes of this movie I was grinning from ear to ear. I’ve heard people say there must be subliminal messages in there, because people seemed to be coming out of the theatres with a full-on case of Bieber Fever. I’m not sure about Chu’s brainwashing techniques, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. The opening to the movie is unreal, it pulls you into the mad world of Justin Bieber instantly, and it’s quite a fun place to be. There’s catchy music pumping, bright colours, a great light show, and some truly awesome use of 3D filming. From start to finish, people were bopping along in their seats, smiling, laughing and going “Awwwww!” I’m not ashamed to be included in that group. Walking out of that cinema, I had a mixture of feelings. I was elated by the content, but mostly in shock and thoroughly impressed with just how good it was.
So what made it so unexpectedly good? First thing, Chu chose to include a lot of home videos of Bieber from his childhood growing up in a small town in Canada, where his single mum raised him with the help of her parents. This gave the movie heart. Interviews with both his mother and grandparents were moving, and immediately you stop thinking of Bieber simply as a money-making machine built by Usher and Island Def Jam. Secondly, thank God for all those YouTube videos, because they sure came in handy for this film. Audiences who hadn’t seen a very young Bieber performing in singing competitions in Canada, playing his guitar on the street for dozens of onlookers, practicing the piano and the drums, will be pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of what is essentially proof that Bieber is genuinely talented. Say what you will about the guy, but you cannot deny his musical ability after watching this movie. Thirdly, the documentation of the 10 days leading up to his all-important performance at the prestigious Madison Square Garden venue in New York was very well done, showing the ups and downs of rehearsals and preparation with some great cameos. Finally, the 3D was splendid, far beyond anything I’d have thought possible for a musical documentary. Wonderful use of this technology went a long way to making the concert sequences really pop – it’s almost as if Bieber’s outstretched hand is going to grab yours and pull you through the screen. Also, all of the music was phenomenal. All in all, Never Say Never was top notch entertainment for the entire duration.
Highly recommended for the non-Bieber fan, especially adults who doubt his capabilities at making a lasting impression on the industry. Obviously young female fans will love this one, but it’s the skeptics who will be bowled over by this unanticipated eye opener.
Director: Jon Chu (Step Up 3D, Step Up 2: The Streets)
Starring: Justin Bieber, Usher, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Sean Kingston, Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith, Boyz II Men
Theatre Release: April 2011
Studio: MTV Films/Paramount Pictures