Pop star Justin Bieber's 3D documentary Never Say Never should satisfy any die-hard Bieber fan. At the same time, those dragged to come along will not only enjoy themselves, but actually come to appreciate the 16-year old singer and even root for him.
"He's, like, a regular kid who had a dream and it, like, came true," says one teenage female fan outside a Justin Bieber concert. And that's exactly what director Jon M. Chu strives to show: a young kid from a broken -- but loving and stable -- home in a tiny town in Canada who is discovered on the internet and through hard work and a good group of people around him, becomes one of the biggest sensations in music.
Coming across like a very expensive VH1's Behind-the-Music special, what's key to the documentary is all the early footage of young Justin. Priceless and adorable, this is what will keep his fans coming back for repeat viewings. For the non-believers, it shows that the boy is talented and willing to work hard for his success.
The home videos are also inter-cut with the people in Bieber's life, past and present - his mother, grandparents, schoolteacher, best friends and others who knew him in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario (pop. 32,000). We also meet everybody on Team Justin - the vocal teacher, the manager, the bodyguard, etc., etc., all of whom come off as sincere and protective of their young prodigy. "Ninety percent of my job is helping him become a good man," says one of them. You actually believe it.
The concert footage -- featuring plenty of guest stars such as Usher, Ludacris, Boys II Men and Miley Cyrus, are ostensibly there to add star power, but only reinforce that it is Bieber -- and only Bieber -- that the fans want. Never is that more prevalent then during the "Lonely Girl" portion of the film where during his concerts, a female fan is pulled on stage to be serenaded by Bieber himself as he sings the ballad, "One Less Lonely Girl." The attention Bieber showers the 'chosen one' and the girls' overwhelming response to being picked is the film's biggest 'feel-good' moment. Although the whole stage act is designed to make one lucky girl's day -- if not year -- Chu makes it an emotional and moving experience that is practically tear inducing.
Chu, who most recently directed the dance movie Step Up 3D, creates an actual story-line so that it's not random video and concert moments. The crux of the documentary leads up to the grand finale, which is Bieber performing at Madison Square Gardens -- the crème de la crème of venues to perform at. (Although Justin having vocal chord issues, needing to see a doctor, possibly having the MSG show in jeopardy feels like a weak attempt to create melodrama.)
Chu also shows two fascinating moments in the film that are never expanded upon -- or judged -- but speak volumes nevertheless. One is when Bieber's father, Jeremy Bieber, comes to see his very first 'Justin Bieber' concert. The film never quite delves in to why his dad is not in the picture much and how that may have affected the teen. However, it is interesting to watch Jeremy Bieber stepping in to his son's world, being introduced to the 'family' his son has now put together, and not being quite sure how to maneuver his way through it. During the concert, the camera catches the father watching his son with awe and pride, tears streaming down his face. One can't help but wonder how much regret or heartbreak Jeremy Bieber is holding inside.
The other is the appearance of Jayden Smith, son of superstars Will and Jada. As we're shown Bieber working his entire life towards a music career that is about to culminate in a career-capping, sold-out performance at Madison Square Gardens, we learn that Jayden Smith will be making a guest-appearance on stage to sing with Bieber on that very same night. Furthermore, we're told that this will be Jayden first-ever live performance, yet the young Smith seems blase about the opportunity.
After being shown Bieber's trajectory of busking on the streets of Stratford, performing at local talent competitions, going from radio station to radio station asking DJs to play his album, it's a stark contrast seeing Smith being handed this performance opportunity without having payed any dues.
"My parents are taking a helicopter here," Jayden boasts to Bieber backstage, failing to grasp the magnitude of the Canadian youngster's big night... through no fault of his own.
The film builds up to the most climactic scene -- Bieber walking backstage to assume the starting position of his Madison Square Garden show. As the crowd roars, as Bieber takes each step closer to the stage, as he inches towards his big dream, Chu intercuts those final moments with lightening-quick footage of Bieber's childhood home videos, creating Sixth Sense moments to remind viewers of the journey that has led Bieber to this very spot. Sure it's manipulative, but it makes you cheer for the kid anyway. After all, he's got the goods, he's got the chops and gosh darn it, you want to see him achieve those dreams.