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Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

Catherine von Ruhland

Jon M. Chu
Certificate U, 101 mins

justin-bieber.jpgIt's too easy to dismiss Justin Bieber.  The white bread faux r 'n' b of his massive hit, 'Baby': his pre-pubescent flirting with girls way out of his league on his videos: the one up-from-X-Factor manufactured teen idol air about him that seems destined for a blink-and-you-missed it pop career. Yet even hardened film critics have admitted to finding themselves infected with at least a sniffle of Bieber Fever after seeing Never Say Never. Ostensibly, its format is a conventional gig movie covering the 10 days to the 16-year-old's sell-out Madison Square Gardens headliner of 2010 against a 'story so far' backdrop.

But Jon M.Chu bookends the film with internet messaging, and claims Bieber's meteoric rise would not have been possible five years earlier. More so than The Social Network, here is a record of how the internet is transforming relationships, not least between star and fan. Chu uses every film format from Super 8 upwards, and Justin's success demanded both digital and old style appearances too.        

Youtube got him noticed, not least by his manager Scooter Braun, but the two of them had to traipse round practically every radio station in the States and the boy perform on his acoustic guitar to build his audience.  And having tuned into him - and then via Twitter found out which station he'd be at next and duly turned up, his fans have remained loyal, and he to them. To the extent of giving them a major - mostly screaming - role in the movie. They're a notably multi-racial crowd too: one teenager in a hijab proves she's a fan by singing one of her idol's hits - and is rewarded with gig tickets by crew members sent to give out freebies.

But Bieber is also a product of the video age, his early years captured on camera by a doting mother and grandparents. While Bieber's book First Step 2 Forever: My Story blindsided me by his relaxed decency and Christian faith, Never Say Never is notable for its jaw-dropping evidence from Day One of the boy's burgeoning musical gift.

The next few years will be crucial for Bieber as to whether or not he goes on to better things - or sinks without trace or becomes yet another music biz casualty. He appears grounded by his small-town Canadian upbringing, but seems as much supported by the surprisingly caring management and backstage team as by his Twittering fans. The pre-stage gee up turns out to be a genuine prayer circle. By the time, in the end credits the steely vocal coach is asking God to 'help us all to understand the responsibility that goes with what comes after this', you can't help but agree and wish the lad well.

Catherine von Ruhland