Movie Reviews - 'Never Say Never' - 'Justin Bieber's An Awesome Package' Packaged teen idol Justin Bieber is the star of a new concert documentary, Never Say Never, which follows him as he prepares for a show at Madison Square Garden. Film critic David Edelstein says the film is an "expertly engineered promo" that can make little girls — and Bieber's marketing team — scream with delight.
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'Never Say' Justin Bieber's Not An Awesome Package

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'Never Say' Justin Bieber's Not An Awesome Package

Review

Movies

'Never Say' Justin Bieber's Not An Awesome Package

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TERRY GROSS, host:

Just over two years ago, few people knew Justin Bieber outside his small hometown in Ontario, Canada. Today, he's a worldwide teen pop star and the center of the new concert film called "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never."

Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: On our way to see the concert documentary "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," my not-yet-13-year-old-daughter asked: Dad, do you think they'd mind if during the movie I screamed? I said I thought the studio would be thrilled if she screamed. She'd prove she was a Biebermaniac, a Belieber.

The film, as it happens, is packed with little girls screaming - and moaning and weeping. I'd have screamed if I was in marketing, because this is one awesome piece of packaging.

The key, of course, is that Bieber is presented as a grass-roots phenomenon, someone who rose without corporate packaging. "Never Say Never" opens with a computer screen and a mouse clicking on well-known YouTube viral videos: laughing babies, cute dogs and so on. Then there's a YouTube video of little Justin in a paneled room, a small-town kid with a big-city voice. Hey, check out this kid, reads a fake, but representative email. Bieber is, we're told, the first social-network superstar.

The movie is cunningly woven to show the tension between his insane success and his determination to remain a sane, normal 16-year-old. His background helps. His teenage mom and dad split when he was 10 months old, but we're told he always had the love of his mother and her parents, not to mention God and Jesus. He wasn't hatched in a studio incubator. His talent manager, Scott "Scooter" Braun, first saw him on YouTube. He couldn't interest record companies, though, because Bieber didn't have the requisite connection to Disney or Nickelodeon. So Braun enlisted Usher, whom Bieber idolized. But in the end, says Braun, Bieber sold himself.

(Soundbite of movie, "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never")

Mr. SCOTT "SCOOTER" BRAUN (Justin Bieber's manager): Every label says: There's no platform for him. Justin was looking at me, like, when are we going to do something? Hand-to-hand combat is what we did. We put Justin in a van and on airplanes. He just got focused on what we had to do.

Unidentified Man #1: All right. QN02 live in the studio, Justin Bieber.

Mr. JUSTIN BIEBER (Singer): What's up, guys?

Unidentified Woman: Justin, what are you going to sing for us right now?

Mr. BIEBER: I'm going perform "One Time" right now.

(Soundbite of song, "One Time")

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) When I met you, girl, my heart went knock-knock...

Mr. BRAUN: There's not a DJ that can say they have not met Justin Bieber, and he won people over.

(Soundbite of song, "One Time")

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Man #1: Wow.

Unidentified Man #2: That was nice, man - acapella. That was nice.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

Unidentified Man #1: Justin Bieber, do not forget us, bro. Don't forget us.

Mr. BRAUN: He started twittering. I'm going to be at this radio station. I'm going to be at this radio station.

(Soundbite of song, "One Time")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) When I met you, girl, my heart went knock-knock...

Mr. BRAUN: First 20 kids, then 40 kids, then 100 kids, then a couple hundred kids started lining up outside of these radio stations to just get a glimpse of him.

(Soundbite of screaming)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BRAUN: And they started to play his record.

(Soundbite of song, "Never Say Never")

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) 'Cause this is my fantasy. I will never say never.

EDELSTEIN: Director Jon M. Chu jumps back and forth between Bieber's rise and the countdown to his sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden - the pinnacle, the movie says. Ten Days to Madison Square Garden. Nine Days to Madison Square Garden.

Since Bieber is already playing to sold-out arenas, there's little in the way of suspense, until he starts to lose his voice and has to cancel a show in Syracuse. A doctor arrives. There's a close-up of Justin's inflamed tonsils. Will he be able to play the Garden? You gotta Beliebe.

Unlike most packaged teen idols, Bieber has a voice that needs no help from sound mixers, and home movies show he had uncannily slick moves from an early age.

Having risen out of the social network, he has more communication tools at his disposal than, say, Donny Osmond in his day. In the middle of his song "Baby," he raps: Yeah, I'm 16 and I thought that you'd be mine. I used to tweet you and text you and call you and hit you on Facebook all the time. Can't believe that you did me wrong. We were on iChat all night long.

Wow, iChatting all night long - that is serious.

No wonder one fan gushes: I think about him, like, 99 percent of my life. Another says: one day I tweeted him 100 times. He's really hot, adds a child who looks closer in years to diapers than puberty.

In concert, one girl is always pulled from her seat to sit on a stool onstage during his signature number, "One Less Lonely Girl." As the girl here weeps and weeps as Bieber descends on her with a bouquet of flowers, I checked out my daughter and her friend - both rapt, both crying. I find him such a white and pious and profoundly unthreatening little Furby robot of a pop star, but little girls' celebrity crushes are not to be trifled with. And this expertly engineered promo film makes Justin Bieber look like a force of nature.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can see clips from the Justin Bieber film on our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show.

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