Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Low-grade fever: "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never"

What were you expecting, Cocksucker Blues? The most useful service the 3D Bieberganza Never Say Never provides will be in explaining to nonplussed post-adolescents where the twenty-first century's own Little Jimmy Osmond emerged from exactly: not some distant cosmos, as perhaps assumed, but via small-town Canadian talent competitions and the instant, hyper-accelerated fame only the Internet can presently bestow. (Dude's the first truly viral pop phenomenon.) The backstage footage is so bland it can only be true: lots of Justin blowdrying his fringe, hanging with friends and collaborators (Usher seems nice), and struggling to shake off a poorly throat in advance of his biggest gig to date at Madison Square Garden.

The British censors' certification guideline - "Contains no material likely to harm or offend" - is both an apt summation of the Bieber oeuvre to date, and some indication we're not dealing with a new Captain Beefheart here; though one record company boss describes Bieber as "the Macauley Culkin of pop", the comparison other contributors repeatedly make is with Michael Jackson, which suggests someone's advisors have spotted a nice gap in the market, and that we should all start worrying if ever Justin starts Tweeting about investing his gazillions in primates and theme parks.

In the kid's defence: as affectless corporo-pop peddling synthetic emotion to consumers in training bras goes, Bieber's music isn't wholly unredeemable; certainly, there are fully grown, allegedly sentient adults - I'm looking at you, Black Eyed Peas - putting out far worse at the moment. The movie is at pains to prove its subject isn't all Autotune: look, it says, here's footage of Justin at the piano or plucking a guitar, between archive of him busking for coins and - at the tender age of eight - giving a public display of syncopated jazz drumming that's well up to the standards of, say, Finn from Glee, if not yet Gene Krupa. As phenomenons go, Bieber is at least open to interesting career choices: his mad bomber role in a recent episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - a crossover bid sadly not covered here - was, in its own way, more outré than any number of GaGa wardrobe decisions.

As directed by Step Up's Jon Chu and produced by half the star's payroll, the movie's tone is generally affectionate: even the 3D intends to bring us closer to someone presented as a little sweetheart. There are fun anecdotes from Bieber's high-school teacher and the girl who once beat him in a talent show, Justin trills one number over a wall of fan tribute videos, which is a cute touch, and it ends with several Bieber baby videos, presumably taken last week. That the whole is bitty and half-formed may just be reflective of the performer, the lack of truly compelling material he has thus far amassed, and indeed of the target audience's attention span - no doubt there's a whole new wave of Biebers in the pipeline as we speak. In even two years' time, the swooning tweenies on screen and in the audience will have come to feel embarrassed indeed about their reactions; anyone else going should take ear plugs for the shrieky bits.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never opens nationwide today. A shorter version of this review ran in today's Scotsman, and online here.