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Justin Bieber's Believe: Film Review

9:41 AM PST 12/27/2013 by Frank Scheck

The Bottom Line

This endlessly self-promotional and insular documentary is strictly for the Beliebers.

Director

Jon M. Chu

Director Jon M. Chu's second documentary about the pop star once again celebrates all things Bieber.

There’s a possibly interesting or amusing film to be made about the Justin Bieber phenomenon, but Justin Bieber’s Believe isn’t it. Director Jon M. Chu’s second documentary is strictly for the Beliebers, with any non-fans sure to respond with bemusement. Stealthily released in theaters on Christmas Day, this follow-up to the equally hagiographic Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is unlikely to match its commercial success, although there will undoubtedly be healthy DVD sales.

Early on, there’s some hope that the film might contain some healthily skeptical perspective, with the young pop star admitting that his forlorn attempt at growing facial hair is “delusional.” But those hopes are squashed fairly quickly, as the proceedings soon come to resemble the sort of promotional behind-the-scenes video commonly attached to CD releases. It’s obvious that the film endorses the view of a fan who proclaims, “The haters are just jealous.”

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Don’t look for any references to sneaking out of Brazilian brothels or being filmed sleeping in bed by an unidentified woman here. Instead, the documentary chronicles the hugely successful “Believe” tour, with the concert footage interrupted by endless testimonials by the star’s friends and associates in which the words “growth,” “journey” and “humble” are frequently uttered.

To drive home the point that Bieber is really, really popular, the film features extensive footage of his rabid fans, most of them adolescent or prepubescent girls -- the scary looking guy who proudly shows off the tattoo of the star’s face on his thigh being a notable exception. There are home movies of little girls devolving into total hysterics after receiving concert tickets as gifts, and endless close-ups of adoring fans breaking into tears while watching him perform.

A key theme hammered home again and again is Bieber’s reciprocal devotion, which includes having his manager hand out tickets to deserving fans shortly before each show. But not before playing some head games first, as evidenced by the scene in which he forces a close-knit group to select one member to leave out of the largesse. Just as the despondent young woman starts to walk away, he reveals that she’ll be watching the show with him. He also amusingly grouses that it’s now harder to give away the tickets without being recognized, although not filming the process would probably help in that regard.

Not surprisingly, the film also dwells on the heavy price of fame, in scenes from a music video in which Bieber is stalked by menacing, ninja-like paparazzi and a sequence shot from inside his limo while it’s being besieged by swarming fans that seems like an outtake from The Walking Dead.

A truly moving segment involves the star’s devotion to a six-year-old fan suffering from a rare fatal disease, with footage of him bringing her onstage during a concert at NYC’s Apollo Theater and later paying tribute to her after she died. But the genuineness of these admirable gestures is undercut by an interview in which he breaks down in tears while talking about her, with one of his associates dramatically handing him a tissue.

At one point, footage of Bieber’s screaming fans is dramatically intercut with vintage clips of young girls responding similarly to the Beatles. It’s too bad that the star and his acolytes didn’t take a lesson from the Fab Four's A Hard Day’s Night and replace a little of the ponderous self-importance on display with some healthy, self-deprecating humor.  

(Open Road Films)

Production: Bieber Time Films, Scooter Braun Films

Director: Jon M. Chu

Producers: Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, Bill O’Dowd, Usher Raymond IV

Executive producers: Charlie Cohen, Sarah Landman, Brad Haugen, Scott Manson, Allison Kaye Scarinzi

Director of photography: Karsten “Crash” Gopinath

Editors: Avi Youabian, Jillian Moul

Composer: Nathan Lanier

Rated PG, 91 min.