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Setting out to demonstrate that overnight sensations deserve respect too, Justin Bieber should make believers out of all but the most hardened of skeptics with Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.
An energetic portrait of the global superstar as a down-to-earth teen from small-town Canada, the documentary works overtime (by about 10 minutes too long) to change his perception from fluke Internet phenom to the hardest working 16-year-old on the planet.
And it generally succeeds, too, thanks to a visually energetic approach by director Jon Chu that keeps all the obligatory backstage/onstage bits moving fluidly.
In a business where timing is everything, the Paramount release is perfectly positioned for maximum impact especially considering an ambitious media blitz that saw Bieber extending his demographic reach with appearances on The Daily Show and Late Show With David Letterman.
Unlike, say, the 2009 Jonas Brothers 3D concert film, which felt like it came out a couple of years too late, Never Say Never is striking while the fever’s still hot, which should translate into more Miley-sized returns.
Starting off, appropriately, on a YouTube page, where Bieber famously overtook the sneezing pandas and cute kitties singing a cover of Chris Brown’s With You, the film follows the trajectory of its main man’s career from behind his kiddie drum kit to the mighty Madison Square Garden stage, which, incidentally, was sold out in a mere 22 minutes.
Along the way we meet his young, devout Christian single mom, Pattie (who gave birth to The Bieb when she was all of 18) and his baby-faced manager, Scooter Braun, not to mention several of his more famous, early adherents, including Usher and prolific producer Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who in the remarkably self-possessed Bieber saw a musical Macaulay Culkin.
Director Chu, who infuses the film with the same lively zip he lent Step Up 3D (although here he’s working with a more intriguing “script”), keeps things disarmingly real for the most part, and even manages to work in a little drama when it appears Bieber’s raggedy voice may not bounce back in time for the MSG gig.
But where the film ultimately hits home is with the more intimate, backstage stuff.
Under the protective wing of an on-the-road support system serving as, in the words of one of his crew, a highly functional dysfunctional family, Bieber manages to make his film’s inspirational message heard loud and clear:
Despite your preconceived notions, he’s just your average, everyday multiplatinum-selling teen idol who still likes to kick back with his Stratford, Ontario, homies and grab a slice at the corner pizza joint.
After saying grace, naturally.
Opens: Friday, Feb. 11 (Paramount)
Production companies: Scooter Braun Films, L.A. Reid Media, AEG Live
Cast: Justin Bieber, Boyz II Men, Miley Cyrus, Sean Kingston, Ludacris, Jaden Smith, Usher
Director: Jon M. Chu
Executive producers: David Nicksay, Randy Phillips, Doug Merrifield
Producers: Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Usher Raymond IV, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz,
Director of photography: Reed Smoot
Music: Deborah Lurie
Editors: Avi Youabian, Jay Cassidy, Jillian Moul
Rating: G, 105 minutes
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