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Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

Directed by Jon Chu

Starring Justin Bieber, Boyz II Men, and Miley Cyrus

Rated G

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It’s easy to make fun of Justin Bieber, but his commercial value is undeniable. His name and likeness is attached to everything from clothing to trading cards to nail polish. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, the latest product from the Justin Bieber propaganda machine, is merely another way to suck money from his fans. It’s thinly disguised as an inspiring 3-D documentary about the 17-year-old’s journey from boy next door to international YouTube sensation to pop-idol-slash-force-of-nature. The film is structured around a countdown to his concert last August in the iconic Madison Square Garden, which sold out in 22 minutes. Strained vocal cords and a cold threaten his ability to perform at his biggest concert to date. Can the normal boy still fulfill his role as a superhuman pop star and make his fans happy?

Part concert film, part documentary, the movie tries to strike a balance between pleasing Bieber fans and trying to prove to the world that there is more to him than just a helmet of hair. As shown by many home video and concert clips in the film, the Beebs is a natural entertainer with undeniable charisma and vocal talent. His strong screen presence carries the film as it drags through song after fluffy pop song. Behind the scenes, Bieber tries to lead a normal life while surrounded by bodyguards and handlers; his prep team becomes his family. The film mentions, but never explores, the pressures of living with superstardom during the teenage years.

Yet the Justin Bieber brand is so carefully maintained by his management that all we get to see is the record company puppet, not the real boy. This squeaky-clean Justin says grace before every meal, mass-autographs photos with incredible speed, and devotes his spare time to tweeting his fans. Though he and his glossy coif are visible throughout most of the movie, much of the narration and insight come from outside sources: his manager, Scooter Braun, and his mother, Pattie Mallette. The brief comments about the difficult life of teen pop idols come only from Miley Cyrus and Bieber’s vocal coach, “Mama Jan” Smith.

The film tries to paint Justin as a dark horse — the one who defied all odds with his perseverance and talent. At one point, Bieber’s manager not-so-subtly drives home the message: “We like being the underdog. We’d like to stay the underdog as long as possible. It kind of gives us something to work for.” But was J-Biebs ever the underdog to begin with? Backed by such industry juggernauts as Usher and legendary music mogul Antonio “L.A.” Reid, the young boy rose to Internet fame largely through a series of carefully-calculated social media marketing tactics on YouTube and Twitter. So much of the success in the Justin Bieber story can be accredited to the skill of the team behind him; when you take that out, there’s really not much to make a movie about. The end result is — much like his music — slickly produced but lacking in substance and satisfying only to those afflicted with Bieber Fever.