Here’s a terrifying analogy: “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – The Director’s Fan Cut” might just be this generation’s “Blade Runner.” But where the multiple versions of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic were spawned from creative differences between the director and the studio, the recut version of this documentary is a result of worryingly exploitative corporate greed. Though the original version of the film was released only two weeks prior, Paramount Pictures nonetheless fast-tracked an alternate version of the movie, replacing approximately one-third of it with new footage in the hopes of luring Beliebers back into theaters.
Make no mistake: “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – The Director’s Fan Cut” is a marketing tool. It is not an intimate exposé of the life and explosive career of the teenage pop star. It is meant to make those that already love him want to love him even more, specifically—if the film’s own audience reaction shots are to be believed—females between the ages of eight and 18.
The film opens with a stereotypically endearing collection of clips from home movies that provide a glimpse into Justin’s upbringing—from his youthful aspiration to be a crossing guard to a naïve proclamation that houses cost $59. From there, we get a condensed retelling of how talent manager Scooter Braun discovered Bieber’s videos on YouTube. R&B legend Usher describes his first impression of the Biebs and recalls asking himself, “The boy has talent, star power, and he knows how to solve a Rubik’s Cube?”—thus redefining the term “triple threat” for the 21st century.
The film then introduces its supporting cast of talent agents, vocal coaches, and sound engineers. By some odd coincidence, every person interviewed frames their relation to Bieber in familial terms; Justin is their brother, nephew, cousin, great aunt, whatever. Of course, this intimacy somewhat undermines the notion that Bieber is out there in the wide world doing everything on his own and struggling to make it big, as the film would have viewers believe.
Life on the Bieber bandwagon certainly seems tough. As Chaz, a childhood friend of Justin and member of his teen entourage, confesses, “Facebook and stuff, I can’t even get friend requests anymore. I have too many.” Fortunately for viewers, the film’s musical content is a bit more compelling.
The backstage antics of the film are centered around Justin preparing for a series of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, and clips from these performances are sprinkled throughout the film. Joining Bieber on stage is a varied cast of performers past and present. Miley Cyrus collaborates with him on “Overboard,” while Jaden Smith—credited quasi-jokingly as a “Karate Expert”—helps out on the film’s title track, “Never Say Never.” There are also appearances by more seasoned stars: Ludacris shows up to drop his verse on the smash hit “Baby” and—oh, how the mighty have fallen—Boyz II Men sings backup on “U Smile.”
The concerts are well-shot, capturing the frenetic energy of the performances and the Beatlemania-esque sobbing of their entirely female audiences. In addition, the concerts were filmed in 3D; the technology doesn’t add anything explicitly interesting to the shot composition, but does add a nice amount of depth to Madison Square Garden’s expansive concert space.
While the film is, without a doubt, a two-hour-long puff piece, it is not without a little self-deprecation. A montage of the riotous insanity of the Cult of Beliebers winkingly presents the idol’s many tween female fans, whose grasp on reality seems to dwindle more and more as the movie progresses—one girl’s tank top reads “Madison Bieber.” Legendary music producer L.A. Reid describes his first impression of Bieber as “the Macaulay Culkin of music.” In another clip, upon being asked for a piece of shaving equipment, vocal coach Mama Jan quips, “a razor? Really?”
Despite the unshakable feeling of capitalism motivating the sheer existence of “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – The Director’s Fan Cut,” it is tough to deny that the movie is, in actuality, pretty fun. Regardless of whether or not one sees his songs as competent music, it is incredibly difficult to deny that Justin Bieber has a presence—an intangible swagger and confidence that he exudes throughout the film. How many other 16-year-olds can sell out Madison Square Garden and hold their own alongside established artists like Usher and Ludacris? It is this winning bravado that is able to sustain the film and makes Bieber one of contemporary music’s most important pop personas.
But ultimately, the film’s faults lie in its choice to disingenuously feed the Bieber phenomenon for profit, rather than honestly portray it. If “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – The Director’s Fan Cut” can be encapsulated into a single moment, it is this: as the film comes to a close, Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun defiantly states, “we like to stay the underdog.” Set against footage of a sold-out show at the Garden, the statement seems, at the very least, dishonest.
—Staff writer Brian A. Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.
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