By David Malitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 9:14 AM
Justin Bieber. To some people he's that young singer. You know, the one with the hair. To others - mostly 'tween girls - he is the greatest singer in the history of music. The cutest boy who ever lived. And, quite possibly, the greatest person in the history of mankind. Ever. OMG. And don't you dare make fun of The Hair.
"Never Say Never," the new concert film/documentary starring the 16-year-old pop megastar, has an easy task in winning over that latter segment. If the film consisted solely of the one scene in which a shirtless Bieber blow-dries his luscious locks, that would be enough to convince them it is the greatest cinematic achievement since "Citizen Kane." (Whoever that is.) The bigger question is whether any folks who don't shriek at the mere mention of the Biebs' name will leave the theater with a case of Bieber Fever.
Answer: Perhaps a mild case, but nothing too serious.
"Never Say Never" is sort of like the featured piece of a political nominating convention. It's a fluffy, mildly inspiring, celebration of the hero leading up to his big moment. In this case it's not potential leadership of the free world, but instead a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden that is seen as the culmination of a whirlwind couple of years that saw Bieber rise from Canadian YouTube sensation to international heartthrob. It plays to the base, and if it wins over a few newbies, all the better.
Although director Jon Chu tries to paint Bieber as a sort of underdog throughout the movie, what's remarkable is actually how smooth the journey to success was.
His gift for music was clear from an early age, and there is plenty of video footage to prove it. Baby Bieber (adorable, obviously) bangs bongos, moves on to a full drum kit, eventually picks up guitar and finally develops that sugary voice. There he is busking on the streets of Ontario, competing in local talent shows - always with a camera trained on him.
Sometimes it feels like the movie has been in the works for his entire life. (Which, really, it has.) In fact, when manager Scooter Braun tells of Bieber's first meeting with eventual mentor Usher when an excitable Bieber pestered him with questions after Braun specifically told him not to, it feels weird that we just hear about this and don't actually get to see it. That's rectified a few minutes later when we see footage of Bieber's initial audition, of sorts, for Usher. Bieber's story is almost like a true life manifestation of "The Truman Show," where we see every move he makes.
Braun is the brains behind Bieber's success, the man who devoted himself to making a star of the kid after first seeing some videos on YouTube. It's his voice we hear more than any other than Bieber's, and he's in charge of the massive crew that has become Bieber's extended family. Fittingly, it's Braun who gets the final hug - second only to Bieber's own mother, Pattie Malette - after the triumphant MSG performance.
Bieber himself comes off like, well, a 16-year-old kid. A bit goofy, a bit cocky and really into his hair. There are plenty of attempts to showcase him as just a regular kid - eating pizza with his friends back home, being told to clean his room, brushing his teeth - but it's clear he had stardom on his mind from the time he knew what stardom was.
As well he should have. That mindset is what helps him shine during the musical segments. Bieber seems most comfortable when there are 20,000 eyes and cameras focused on him, not just the one following him around backstage. His voice is undeniably charming, his stage presence self-assured and his songs almost always catchy. Dismiss him as the latest teen sensation if you will, but his sprightly R&B-based pop songs are more Jackson 5 than New Kids on the Block.
Will the squealing teenage girls, the ones who profess unending love during preconcert interviews and openly weep when he sings and gyrates onstage, stand by him even when his voice changes and a new sensation comes along with an even cooler haircut? It's hard to say. But they will almost certainly stand up and sing along during the closing performance of "Baby," and that's the point of "Never Say Never."
G. At area theaters. Audience may contain shrieking girls. 105 minutes.