Screen Rant's Mike Eisenberg reviews Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Pop sensation Justin Bieber's first single hit the radio waves on May 18th, 2009. 20 months later, a documentary of his 16-year-old life hit theaters in 3D under the title Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. While it succeeds as a concert film, it struggles to be the uplifting documentary that was promised.
A documentary is only as entertaining as its main subject - luckily for Never Say Never, the young performer has every bit of charisma and style a boy his age can possess. For this reason, Never Say Never is watchable, but still lacks any real value as a film other than a money-making machine for Paramount Pictures. This is simply Hollywood implementing every strategy in the books to make big bucks on a low cost product.
Justin Bieber's story is inspiring enough in an age where anyone can become a star thanks to the power of the Internet. Unfortunately, it is only as interesting as a typical 60-minute VH1 Behind The Music episode. Justin Bieber is not a misunderstood superstar. He has avoided controversy and maintained a very positive public image. The film presents this and repeatedly shouts, "Pay attention to this kid!" There is not a single negative connotation with the name Justin Bieber. So far Bieber has managed to stay out of the negative limelight, and hopefully he doesn't end up going down the same road as Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and other young music superstars.
However that is also where Never Say Never falls apart: It is perfectly acceptable as an early recap of Bieber's rise to stardom, but his life story has nothing to offer dramatically to sustain a 105-minute documentary beyond his meteoric rise in popularity. Whenever he is on camera, young girls in the theater swoon and react, but eventually those reactions tapered off. By the halfway mark of the film, those same girls were only reacting to the concert footage - singing along to his catchy tunes and even dancing in the aisles. The actual documentation of Bieber's life is plentiful - he's been on camera since the moment he touched a drum set, but the documentary offered little to no drama via way of any conflict - and this is why there's really not much point to this film at all.
The trailers promote a movie that will inspire others to go out and pursue their destiny, but the actual movie is a 3D love letter to fans of Justin Bieber. Never Say Never doesn't try hard enough to send a positive message to the youth watching the movie. While at times it shows off a child who developed his own talents and inspired everyone around him to join him on the unlikely journey to fame, and it shows that positive influences and faith can drive anybody to success - at every opportunity it has to convince us he is more than what he seems, it cuts to a concert performance and the fans just start singing along again.
Over half of the movie is spent watching fans cry and overreact to Bieber. We get it - young girls love him. Why does the documentary care so much about showing the fans instead of actually telling us a story we don't know? The film misses out on the true power of documentary storytelling. In fact, one could argue the movie made a joke out of Bieber's fans by showing them as rabid sheep to their Little Bo Peep. Documentaries can be powerful, sending us to places we could never go on our own. While Never Say Never shows us a small part of the behind-the-scenes life of this superstar, it does not go any further than a short segment on VH1 or MTV could do in a quarter of the time.
Many have praised the cinematography of Never Say Never. While the images are slick and the shallow depth of field makes for nice imagery, the cinematography is another one of the film's many hindrances. It makes no sense to call the imagery great when much of it includes either roving crowd cameras showing girls dancing and crying or standard definition home video footage. The only real utilization of 3D in the documentary was the concert footage, and that was arguably the best cinematography of the entire film.
Bieber had a blast playing with the 3D component, tossing his hat at the camera and reaching out to the audience and camera in the classic pop star dance move we've seen for decades. It's hard to look back on the film and understand why it cost more than a regular ticket - roughly 25% of Never Say Never was actually in 3D. The most memorable moment of the entire film (which was shot in 3D) involves Bieber and friends pulling off Jackass-style stunts during a test session that probably was never even meant to be in the film in the first place.
With all its flaws, Never Say Never is not without entertainment value. As a concert movie, it is a rousing success. The coverage of his extensive tour leading up to the Madison Square Garden performance is worth watching, but it offers nothing as a narrative production. It has little value other than to show Bieber's charisma and likability - and this is not enough to carry a theatrical documentary. This is why it's important to let a star form in his or her entirety before reflecting on their existence - a la Michael Jackson's This Is It.
If you enjoy Bieber's music, or simply want to watch something light-hearted and fun, Never Say Never is probably worth your money. But if you want something that moves you or tells you a story truly worth telling, you won't find it here. It is rare that a movie presents such an entertaining lead character and offers so little to the audience.
Sometimes we just have to accept a movie for what it is - an easy buck for the studio.