Never Say Never is the story of a YouTube fairy tale manifest; it’s the saga of the power of social media, luck, and mass hysteria, and the perfect storm that ensues when all three amorphous concepts come together in harmony. For those that don’t know Justin Bieber’s story (this is mostly for people from Fargo, let’s assume), it goes as follows: teenage parents have extra-talented baby, teenage father leaves, teenage mother raises baby the best she can and does a decent job (with the help of the church and baby’s Canadian grandparents), extra-talented baby encouraged musically, baby talent videos placed on YouTube, extra-talented baby signs to the same label as Usher the next day. It isn’t much more complicated than that. And yet, it’s so much more complicated than that. Why this kid and not the thousands of others on the Internet doing basically the same thing?
The easy answer is that Bieber is more talented than the rest of them, and after seeing Never Say Never it’s tempting to agree with that statement. But there are countless prodigies all across the Internet, some arguably better than Bieber, so maybe there’s a more convincing answer—like, he’s actually a robot. The home videos of Bieber playing the drums on his mother’s friend’s drum kit are fairly astounding (there aren’t many people in the world that can do anything, and that well, at the age of two, let alone play a full set of Pearls), his rhythm so bizarrely complicated and the creepy intense gaze with which the two-year-old Bieber eye-stabs the camera so utterly captivating that the kid’s crazy flitting arms look almost superimposed over his body.
And that’s just it: The whole thing just seems so fake and manufactured that it’s hard to tell where Bieber actually stands in all this laser-blasting, sparkling-3D mess. For a movie purported to tell the story behind Bieber, there truly is relatively little Bieber in the movie—which isn’t to say that every other shot isn’t of his puffy faux-Beatles mop top, but rather that he rarely speaks, and when he does there’s always some high-pitched spokesperson there to cheer him on or add a quip. As the movie takes you through the cast of characters that inhabit the world of Bieber, they are introduced by their names of course, but then as their respective roles in the “family” that the record label has created for Bieber. He has his real mom, but then there’s Mama Jane, who’s his voice coach and disciplinarian, the security guard is his uncle, his wardrobe guy is his brother, the manager is the big sister, and on and on. All the way up to Scooter Braun, Bieber’s talent manager and discoverer, who ostensibly stands in as a father figure, and at least from this movie, does a relatively swell job (Bieber’s real father, who left his mother when B was 10 months old, shows up for one show, cries a lot, and then is never seen in the film again).
But even with all this support, it’s easy to see that Bieber is already worn down and looks happiest when he’s home in Canada shooting hoops with his buddies. Is Bieber just another child sacrifice to the fame gods like MJ before him? As Bieber wanders Stratford (population 32,000), a small girl plays the violin—and well—in front of a storefront; Bieber stops and tells her that he used to play guitar there as well, and gives her some quarters, as she asks, quietly, “Are you Justin Bieber?” “Never give up on your dreams and keep playing,” he says. The crowd and girl seem unfazed, the camera angle is a little too perfectly set up, the lighting too good—and the seeds of doubt and authenticity slowly creep in. Is this the real Justin Bieber?
If you happen to be a Justin Bieber diehard and want to be his wife, then this movie is going to blow you away with the sheer Bieber-ness of it, and comes highly recommended—but then again, if that is you, you’ve already seen it twice by now somehow anyway. In regards to the fans, let’s just say that Bieber could match Heaven’s Gate and then some without even trying when it comes to the cult of personality. But no matter how intently one watches the movie, and pays attention to the moments, searching, it’s nearly impossible to tell where Bieber the boy ends and Bieber the star begins. Even Miley Cyrus, while singing on stage with him, seems a little creeped out, moving back involuntarily when Bieber reaches out with one of his perfect cherub hands and touches her waist. Will his first real kiss actually happen as choreography on the stage?
In another home video, his mother can be heard off camera as a miniscule Bieber stares intently up at the lens with those shockingly fierce baby blues: “What do you want to be when you grow up, Justin?” And we wait for him to say something like, “I want to be a super star!” But Justin just stares back and smiles that smile, never actually saying anything. It’s clear that Bieber was meant to be a star; the talent is undeniable, but one can’t help but wonder if it was necessarily this star that he was meant to be. And until Bieber figures that out for himself, and learns how to drive, this movie will have to stand in for his answer, and we will suffer for it.