While in Amsterdam in April, the 19-year-old singer signed the guest book at the Anne Frank House, adding, “Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” That incident and the ensuing fallout didn’t make it into “Justin Bieber’s Believe,” a documentary that supposedly chronicles the 2012-2013 tour but stays so relentlessly on message, it offers no insights and few anecdotes about the real Justin Bieber.
The movie follows up on the 2011 “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” which looked at the musician’s unlikely rise to fame by way of YouTube. Now he’s back and more mature; he even sports the shadow of a mustache. But for all his fans, who are shown wailing, sobbing and singing along during his shows, he also has a lot of “haters,” who would love nothing more than to see him fall, he explains. That’s the big tension in the film, although it feels like misdirection, distracting from less savory topics, such as the singer’s on-again, off-again relationship with fellow musician Selena Gomez, or the monkey that was confiscated in Germany when Bieber didn’t have the proper paperwork for the pet.
His response to his detractors comes in the opening number of his concerts. Attendees see the silhouette of a boy flying across illuminated panels before the musician emerges onstage with massive metal wings crafted from instruments. A 12-year-old girl might find such an entrance awe-inspiring, but for anyone with a few more years — hater or not — good luck looking at a confident winged boy and thinking of anything other than Icarus.
To fill in the moments between the live concert footage, director John Chu (he also directed “Never Say Never,” not to mention “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”) pieces together scenes from the recording studio, the dancer tryouts and loads of interviews from people who unequivocally fawn over the film’s subject, including musicians Usher and Mike Posner, producer Rodney Jerkins and Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun.
Along the way there’s a sprinkling of humanizing moments: Bieber makes fun of his own mustache, for instance, and defends his love for low-slung pants. There is also footage of Bieber meeting and singing to a young girl who later died of cancer.
Bieber has an impressive ability to extemporaneously create music when he’s in the studio with producers, but when he sits down with the director for interviews about whether he’s ever been in love or what it’s like to be in the spotlight, he can’t seem to fully articulate his thoughts. These moments offer a glimpse of how the gaffe at the Anne Frank House might have happened. Bieber may technically be an adult, but he’s really just a kid, and one who’s been groomed by PR people to say certain things. It must be exhausting; he’s human, after all. If only the documentary would show it.
PG. At area theaters. Contains brief language and mild thematic material. 93 minutes.