How do you review a Justin Bieber film? If you’re a fan, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference what critics write – you’ve got the screening time, the date and the cinema ticket already. So, this is aimed at the non-fan, the curious, and those yet unaffected by ‘Bieber fever’. Is it worth seeing? It certainly builds a better picture of this social media phenomenon, even if feels a little tightly edited and controlled by Bieber’s machine (hardly surprising), namely overbearing mentor/producer Scooter Braun, a failed child star, if ever there was one, we suspect.
It basically follows the days leading up to Bieber’s sell-out concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, and the ultimate gig by any artist’s standards, having hosted the likes of The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. In the run-up, we’re given an insight into where Bieber materialised from, including a smattering of cute baby photos and video clips of little Biebs in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario, Canada. It’s very much textbook stuff – plus free advertising for the town and Google’s YouTube.
Admittedly, the first time you are seriously impressed by Bieber’s talent in the film is when you witness his amazing drumming skills and rhythm, as ‘Baby Biebs’ drums away a tune on a chair seat. Whatever your reservations of how the Bieber brand has been developed, with help from the likes of rapper Usher and Island Def Jam’s L.A. Reid – much as Scooter tries for a chunk of that glory in the film, the boy can sing, dance and charm the pants off the locals. A young Bieber is shown singing and playing guitar for his supper, busking outside the local Stratford theatre. On a trip back home, where Biebs is told to tidy his room in front of his mates (priceless), the now mega star shows kindness to a young girl playing violin on the very same steps, spreading his brand of encouragement to her to ‘follow her dream’. It twangs the heartstrings, and gets you firmly onboard the ride to the Garden showdown.
To be honest, as much as you may kick against it, you can’t help liking the wide-eyed and bushy-haired teen as he goofs around and then becomes sick. But being cynical for a moment; it could be because we hear very little personal feelings directly uttered from Bieber’s mouth to camera, so he can retain this ‘ethereal presence’, as others around him ‘speak for him’, including Usher, Miley Cyrus etc – and even though his team try to convince us that he’s just a ‘normal kid’. Amusingly, and somewhat unfortunately for Karate Kid’s Jaden Smith, who performs at Bieber’s Garden show, is that the son of Will Smith comes off as a product of celebrity parent upbringing, swaggering and basking the Bieber limelight, when he’s really a nice kid.
The film has some hilarious sound bites from fans to enjoy, as they fall in hysterics outside the many venues Bieber is appearing at, dressed head to foot in Bieber’s favourite colour, purple. It’s like The Beatles all over again with kids and grown females (who ought to know better) cooing, drooling and fainting in corners at the thought, let alone the sight of their idol. Then Scooter and management arrive on the scene to whip the fanatics into frenzy with an offer of free tickets to one of Bieber’s gigs. It becomes quite bile-inducing, actually, as the ever tedious Mr Prawn, sorry ‘Braun’ tries to get even more screen time in the film, convincing us he has Bieber’s best interests at heart. It’s an unavoidable thing in such a film, where touring means meeting the ‘family’. That said Bieber’s family come off as normal, with even Ma Bieber stepping back from centre-stage, affectionately shown when everyone congratulations the star after the Garden gig, and Bieber goes to hug her.
As for seeing Bieber in 3D, there are some effective moments, where Biebs reaches out to the crowd on stage, or flicks his hair like in a slow-mo shampoo ad. The 3D merely enhances the stage performance’s depth, with the odd 3D camera at the bottom of screen popping out from time to time. Apart from that, it’s very much a case of ‘3D titling’ and a couple of ‘flying’ baby pictures during the performance, so the use of 3D is, once again on anything that’s not an animation, highly questionable, and kids are going to have to fork out more to see their idol.
Have we got the Bieber fever? We certainly don’t have a rash from watching this film – more a warm glow of enlightenment. If someone else wants to pay out for the 3D ticket price, as a non-fan, you could sit through worse music offerings. In the end, you really do wish Bieber the best of luck, so you could argue the film has done its job.