Pandas sneezing. Babies laughing. A bride and groom falling into a swimming pool. And….Justin Bieber.

It’s hard to imagine a Bieber documentary opening with a more appropriate first reel than Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which unspools four Youtube videos played one after the other, the fourth depicting the man/kid of the hour as a little tyke sitting on a couch singing.

This is where the teen superstar with the voice of a mature age chipmunk and the blemish-less face of a Clearsil model emerged: an online landscape of shits and giggles, where dogs run into walls, lemurs stare down kittens, baby monkeys ride backwards on pigs and attention spans last seconds, not minutes.

From the jungle of anything goes-tainment Bieber shot to the top and then out of the ballpark altogether. He reached upper echelons of fame with breakneck speed, collecting album purchases as fast as the latest installment of OMG Cat collects pageviews. How did it happen? Is this clean-skinned all-American celeb one of the luckiest kids on the planet or does he possess some kind of phenomenal talent only squealing teens appear to be capable of recognising?

Director Jon Chu doesn’t explain his fame, because nobody can. At best it’s guesswork. No rational line of thinking can explain the hordes of young girls who explode into fits of hysteria when Bieber’s name is mentioned, let alone what happens when they see him. There’s star struck and then there’s the feral delirium that greets the beliebers.

Never Say Never provides context to the riddle and an overview of the pipsqueak’s whirlwind on the road life. He’s forever whisked from town to town, stage to stage, camera to camera. A heap of interviews with the people close to Bieber (his mum, grandparents, manager, body guard, road crew etc) humanize him, but only to a point. The star of the show is never interviewed himself, which reinforces his presence as more entity than personality, a product to distribute between vendors, a sort of catnip for kids.

The target audience for Never Say Never is the same as Bieber’s, which means the most interesting points of exploration – social media’s role in building his fame, the potential ramifications, mental or otherwise, of a kid without a home or a school — are touched upon if explored at all.

After a what-he-was-like-as-a-kid intro the film’s focus is simply Bieber preparing for concerts and other people extolling his virtues. There are plenty of songs that will make adult audiences want to self-harm, but the film itself is so-so, a decent enough Dummies Guide to the Bieber-lution. It’s good at putting context around his celebrity, but, in terms of the young lad himself, barely scratches the surface.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never’s Australian theatrical release date: April 7, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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