Justin Bieber: Never Say Never review

Is there anything for a movie geek to enjoy in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never? There's only one way to find out, so here's our review...

As I write, this geek is sat in the bar of Leicester Square’s Vue cinema, populated by a mixture of young girls aged 5 to 17 and their doting parental units waiting to watch a modern idol’s debut celluloid performance. Just to offset the difference, there’s a flute of complementary wine on the table and a cup full of pick’n’mix brought up from the foyer next to it. Never say never, indeed.

Justin Bieber is nearly 17 and around the same age as the oldest fans at this preview screening, or so you’d guess. It’s not possible to say for sure how many of the adults, all putting on their best One Man And His Dog game faces to keep their lucky charges from reaching a critical mass of giddiness, actually appreciate Bieber’s music. It’s noticeable that few seem reluctant to be here.

Excuse me for a second while I see away another foam banana and block a wee lassie using the table as a climbing frame from kicking over my glass of red.

Opening in the UK on February 18 and having grossed 30 million smackeroos already over Valentine’s weekend in America, Never Say Never is Bieber’s first motion picture. Well, that’s not quite accurate, as the film attests right from its YouTube-mimicking start.

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For the last few years, Canada’s biggest selling export since maple syrup and Wolverine has been finding an ever-growing audience, in both age and number, over this here Internet you’re faffing around on right now.

Pop’s newest moppet was discovered by amiable manager, Scooter Braun, idly hyper-linking through clips on the world’s TV channel, after Bieber uploaded cover videos with the encouragement of his mother. This is the story Never Say Never follows. From a small-town upbringing in Stratford, Ontario to a recent, explosive sell-out gig at dream venue, Madison Square Garden, during his My World tour. Oddly, Justin Bieber isn’t as much of a noob as the geographically-aware internets would have us believe. He might seem like a class clown, but he’s still a good kid for his single-parent mom and sweet grandparents.

Originally due to be directed by the bizarre choice of An Inconvenient Truth‘s Davis Guggenheim, eventual helmer Jon Chu brings home the Canadian bacon. Chu’s experience shooting Step Up 3D has made him the right man for Bieber’s tale so far. The direction is candid and humorous and the added dimension gives each performance solidity and a sense of space, legitimising the use of the format.

When Justin reaches out of the screen toward the audience, though, he’s aimed squarely at the adoring teens reaching right back. There were several cries of “We love you!” from the stalls, but I assure you, none of them were from me.

Interspersed throughout concert footage filmed at Madison Square Garden are videos and photos of a developing and irrepressible musical talent. These are accompanied by interviews with the industry buds, road crew, family, friends and fans that really care about Bieber’s need to entertain.

It was unexpected to find that the young boy’s extended family encouraged his interest in music when it manifested and did not foist that life on him. This is not another Disney-fostered studio kid like Britney, Christina, Miley or the other Justin. It’s reassuring to know that the first generation to take the possibilities of YouTube for granted has chosen someone with motivatio and showmanship.

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Bieber’s snowballing success has only taken a couple of years to reach this peak. There hasn’t been a concert documentary as effortlessly engaging and charming as Never Say Never since Tap rocked around a miniature stone circle. It doesn’t hurt Bieber’s credibility that at one point he plays an acoustic ballad while sat inside a giant metal heart, hovering over the screaming, tearful fans below, and somehow managing to not look like an imbecile.

There are also some surprisingly geeky touches. Bieber’s a Spider-fan, Braun wears a Hulk t-shirt, the two make Mario noises while discussing the Mushroom Kingdom, and ID4 legend and Fresh Prince Will Smith’s little Karate Kid, Jaden, duets on the eponymous track as dancers throw hadoukens.

Within Chu’s screen is a lot of youthful energy and enthusiasm for music, dance and life. Cynics can stow criticisms of manufactured stardom and a lack of talent, as it’s blatant from every frame of the picture that Bieber is a natural musician.

You’re probably aware of some of the warbling wunderkind’s hits, and they’re all performed here, with backing from friends. If the guest appearance is the musical equivalent of the comic book crossover, then there’s a veritable Justin League happening here. Lending a note or two are Usher and the aforementioned Jaden Smith, Sean Kingston, Ludacris, spawn of Billy Ray, Miley Cyrus, and 90s R&B crooners, Boyz II Men.

If you have even a tongue-in-cheek affection for current pop, Jacko-alike dance routines, underdog stories and cheesy 80s concert movies that finish with a showstopper, you’ll find yourself smiling and tapping along with Never Say Never. If you want more, Justin Bieber will return in Never Say Never Agai… Wait, that’s not right.


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3 out of 5