Thursday, July 10, 2014
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In ‘Never Say Never,’ Bieber fans share spotlight with the star

About the movie
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Genre:
Documentary; Musical
MPAA rating:
G
Running time:
01:45
Release date:
2011
Rating:
Cast:
Jaden Smith; Shawn Stockman; Miley Cyrus; Nathan Morris; Justin Bieber; Wanya Morris
Directed by:
Jon Chu

The tween set has found its cinematic Valhalla in "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never." Jon M. Chu's hybrid documentary/concert film details the mop-topped idol's rise from small-town Canadian nobody to international pop star, culminating in a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden.

"Never Say Never" is as much a love letter to Bieber's fans as it is a week-in-the-life of the 16-year-old. Their pronouncements of love and adoration, either on camera or via Twitter posts, are liberally sprinkled throughout, including various intentions of marriage and pronouncements of undying love.

Fans are further rewarded with several gratuitous shirtless shots of the object of their affection.

In catering to his audience, Chu loses his narrative thread halfway through. "Never Say Never" is structured around the 10 days before the Garden show, following Bieber back to his hometown of Stratford, Ontario, where he pals around with boyhood friends, allowing for several scenes of the Boy Wonder as a baby.

But then it gets bogged down reminding the audience that Bieber is, like, totally hot and the looming importance of such a big concert is forgotten in favor of, say, a slow-motion zoom to a stationary Bieber as he dramatically flips his hair.

If "Never Say Never" proves anything, it's not that Bieber is the hardest-working man in show business, despite the film's several reiterations of that claim. Anyone at the top of his field presumably puts in the effort to get there. It's that Bieber is freakishly charismatic, even before the collective attention of preadolescent America was turned on him. At a talent show, for example, Bieber drops the mic during a performance of "Respect" but self-deprecatingly mugs his way through the flub like a more-seasoned performer.

But Chu never lets Bieber speak. Most of the talking-head screen time is dedicated to manager Scooter Braun - who talks about how he plucked Bieber from obscurity and launched him into the stratosphere using social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube - and Bieber's vocal coach, the tough-as-nails "Mama" Jan Smith.

Bieber rarely gets the chance to say anything for himself, which is a shame considering how entertaining he is, both pre- and post-fame. No one is looking for a hard-hitting expose on Bieber's life, but it would be nice to at least hear the guy speak.

Chu, the director of "Step Up 2: The Streets" and "Step Up 3D," knows how to shoot a dance sequence and never falls into the trap of flashy fast cuts that often hinder dance movies. The well-shot performance scenes - which include cameos from Miley Cyrus and Usher - keep "Never Say Never" moving whenever it begins to feel inert.

But the best part of "Never Say Never" is the audience. Not the one up on screen, but the one that will be sitting in the theater next to you. Scenes of the screen audience cheering were indistinguishable from the sonic boom coming from inside the movie house. They came, they saw, they screamed.

It's rare to experience sentiment at that level, but the pure, unadulterated joy is completely contagious.

Produced by Scooter Braun, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Usher Raymond, Antonio Reid, directed by John Chu, music by Deborah Lurie, distributed by Paramount Pictures.

MOLLY EICHEL eichelm@phillynews.com 215-854-5909
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