Justin Bieber's 'Never Say Never:' Boy, Meet World

Review: Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never" paints revealing portrait of pop star.

Feb. 11, 2011 — -- Most adults don't want to like teen sensations. They don't want to buy into the hype, to admit that someone who can't yet vote might be worthy of rabid fans and rampant fame, to think that the kid with the hair might have something there.

I, certainly, was not a Belieber.

But it's hard to hold on to those notions after watching "Never Say Never." The 3-D extravaganza of a documentary, in theaters today, chronicles Justin Bieber's rise from small-town Canada kid to international pop star, and weaves in a wealth of concert footage along the way. (Gotta give the squealing, screeching, teenage masses what they want.)

Bieber isn't like his predecessors. Most of them -- i.e., Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson -- came from machines that had them singing, dancing and acting like professionals well before they finished puberty.

Not Bieber. "Never Say Never" paints him as a self-made star for the YouTube generation. Long before he was crooning "Baby, baby, baby, oooh," he was banging on pots and pans, drumming with band-mates more than twice his age, and strumming a guitar on the street for money. His mom, Pattie Mallette, recorded his performances and uploaded them to an ever-growing base of online fans.

Wait, actually, that wasn't so long ago. The point "Never Say Never" makes, again and again, is that Bieber hit critical mass faster than any pop star in history, thanks to the power of Internet video, social media, and the perseverance of his manager, Scooter Braun, who happened to click on one of Malette's videos in 2007.

Little more than three years after Braun introduced Bieber to music moguls Usher and L.A. Reid, the first installment of Bieber's debut album, "My World," went platinum in the U.S.; the second, "My World 2.0," double platinum. At 16, Bieber is the youngest solo male act to top the Billboard music charts since Stevie Wonder in 1963.

The fans to whom "Never Say Never" caters already know all that. While the movie focuses on fleshing out the kid behind the sensation -- spotlighting his dad, his childhood friends, the grandparents who helped raise him -- it breaks for interludes on what makes him so appealing to the (mostly) women of all ages who've succumbed to Bieber fever.

Justin Bieber: 'Never Say Never' Review

"I think about him like, 99 percent of my life," muses a girl who is maybe eight years old. A slow-motion sequence of Bieber shaking his signature shag, set to Etta James' "At Last," parodies the obsession with his hair to hilarious effect. Even Bieber can't help but laugh. He's in on the joke; it's cute.

Levity is welcome in a day-to-day life that's often all work, all the time. Contrary to the title of his album, Bieber is a kid in a world of grown-ups. His entourage -- comprised of managers, bodyguards, and a mother-like voice coach -- surrounds him 24/7. There are no playdates or proms in his future.

And while many of his wishes and pastimes are those of a child -- he wants McDonald's, he thumbs away at video games, he hits himself in the head with yo-yo -- adulthood seeps in. In one scene, he lathers up, grabs a razor, and takes it to his face, though there appears to be nothing to shave.

In this sense, "Never Say Never" is a coming of age story like many others: boy grapples with becoming man before he's ready. In a completely different sense (a three dimensional one) it's a rocking ride through Bieber's "My World Tour," a chance to watch Bieber pop and lock and shimmy and shake and sing his heart out -- at one point, while sitting in an enormous steel heart-shaped frame suspended dizzying feet above the audience of one of his sold-out stadium shows.

At times, the 3-D bells and whistles turn cheesy. (Is it necessary to have baby photos of Bieber rain down over the crowd?) But it's all in good fun. "Never Say Never's" narrative and spectacle come together at Bieber's Madison Square Garden show, at the end of which, sweaty and slightly hoarse, he muses about how much selling out the iconic arena means to him. He launches into an encore: "Baby." The crowd goes crazy; he's invincible.

For now, anyway. As Usher reminds Bieber before MSG, "You won't be 16 forever."

The One-Sentence Summary: An insightful, engaging portrait of one of today's biggest pop sensations, with enough cheese and glitz to satisfy the most hardcore fanatic.

"Never Say Never," directed by Jon Chu, with Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Sean Kingston, Ludacris, Jaden Smith, Usher, and Boyz II Men, opens in theaters Friday, Feb. 11.

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