Justin Bieber has a movie out. The lovely Natalie Hinman attended the European premiere in London yesterday evening. Here is what she thought...
I cannot stress enough how skeptical I was about seeing Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.
As someone initially apathetic and, in truth, attempting to avoid the inexorable Bieber-bandwagon, I was expecting a sycophantic, precocious and somewhat nauseating account of the Canadian child’s rise to stardom. I will only tell you ‘One Time’ – see it for yourself before you judge.
I am pleased to say that, while the film is of course a 1hr 45min engineered example of PR expertise; if you can free your mind of the overriding feeling you are being brainwashed into Belieberism, and take the docu-film with the pinch-of-salt that is, on many levels, intended, there is a lot of scope for enjoyment - especially if you have an ‘ironic’ predisposition for corny pop-music.
Every element of the film and the Bieber story is so cleverly, almost cunningly, cut together – there is just enough irony and tongue-in-cheek humour to encourage a rapport with Bieber and thaw any frosty preconceptions that he may be spoilt, vacuous and impossible to like. He’s not.
The film opens with vox-pops from the stereotypical young girl fans, hyperventilating with excitement and making excessive, albeit disturbingly believable, affirmations: “I think about Justin Bieber, like 99% of my life.” And this, almost self-satire, sets the tone that the film may just be capable of appealing to an audience outside of the Belieber-bubble.
The movie traces Bieber’s rise to success, from his small-town beginning in Stratford, Ontario – growing up with single-mum, Patti Mallette, in a close-knit family with a particularly heart-warming bond between Justin and his grandfather.
His mum has an unassuming grace and strength that should not go unnoticed. While many parents would be lambasted for allowing their child into Bieber’s surreal lifestyle; the prodigious home-videos of Justin performing clarify that fame and success was not pushed onto him, but was simply destined.
In one video, a barely post-toddler Justin is seen mimicking a visiting friend on the drums; beating a chair with near-implausible timing, rhythm and intuition. His singing is similarly raw – it becomes more difficult to resent his success after hearing his unedited, unmixed vocals that are so rare in this era of auto-tune, and see he has a charming and engaging swagger from the outset.
The ‘hook’ is that Justin is portrayed as the anti-hero – a grass-roots underdog, unprocessed by Disney or Nikelodeon and ergo a success in his own right.
The film depicts the struggle to retain a degree of normality on his whirlwind journey from busking and talent shows, to his YouTube fame – where he was discovered by now-manager Scott "Scooter" Braun - to becoming a global phenomenon. The specific climax of the film is the dramatic countdown to his performance at the prestigious Madison Square Gardens, as he battles against exhaustion and throat infection.
Many milestones in his journey to success, and specifically to The Garden, are interspersed with ‘live’ performances from his tour – glaringly fundamental for a film about a musical superstar! But this is where the 3D element really comes into play – it is probably unnecessary on the whole, but definitely an enthralling component for the younger ‘Beliebers’.
The use of 3D also works well as a representation of Justin’s new-media/social-network roots and reliance; with him being the original YouTube phenomenon and reigning so supremely over Twitter. 3D icons pop-up with cut-and-pasted fan ‘tweets’, YouTube virals and informal, cartoon-like text to ironically caption feelings in the video. The graphics are an extension of Justin’s 16-year-old self – fun, young and engaging; while the immersion and feeling of participation induced by a 3D Justin Bieber depicts the relationship he has (or indeed would like to be seen to have) with his ‘Beliebers’.
All in all, a piece of PR strong enough to make skeptics into Beliebers – to paraphrase Drake; just one of Justin’s famous – and credible – pals.
It is an eye-opening depiction of a globally-known but not wholly-understood teen-sensation. If you can forget initial reservations and preconceptions, you can expect laughter, a lot of cringing, perhaps even a little tear. If you have been converted, you will leave the theatre with a warm feeling of happiness and positivity about life.
At the very least, if you are determined to remain a cynic, the Justin Juggernaut is a fantastic education and insight into the power and potential of social media.