LOW EXPECTATIONS firmly in place, I sat down to watch Justin Bieber: Never Say Never alongside a theaterful of jubilant teens. Now, as internet memes go, I like Justin Bieber: I think at least two or three of his songs are pop gems, and he seems to have a good sense of humor about himself. But I can also understand why a significant slice of the population HATES him—Bieber seemingly came out of nowhere, stealthily slipped past their pop culture blind spot, and blew up bigger than Hello Kitty, Silly Bandz, and Hannah Montana combined. And just as with so many other things haters gonna hate, these people are now looking around at his millions of fans and wondering, "What just happened??"
What happened were the teens in that theater. Bieber was their discovery. His blast off on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook makes him the world's first social networking superstar, and whether the rest of us like it or not, he's here until those teens say he's not here. However! That certainly doesn't mean that his movie can't be a piece of crap—just another crass marketing device from an industry that has no problem beating a dead horse into glue. That's why I went in with "low expectations," and that's why I was surprised to discover that Never Say Never is... well, sorry haters... pretty great.
In fact, I'd go as far to say it shares similarities with Madonna's wholly excellent Truth or Dare concert documentary: While not nearly as sexy or gay, Never Say Never focuses less on the music and more on the Beeb's social network—both immediate and expanded. We meet mom, manager, mentor, grandparents, best friends, vocal coach, security... everyone who keeps a goofily likable kid/pop superstar from tumbling into the Lindsay Lohan abyss. The love and protective instincts these people have for Justin—especially a heartbreakingly sweet granddad—is apparent, and cut together with shot after shot of hilariously lovesick fans, one can't help but think... you know, unlike those who fell before him, this Bieber kid is gonna be okay.
While a good 20 minutes too long (but probably not nearly long enough for the die-hards), Never Say Never also has great concert sequences, fun guest stars (hello Ludicrous and Usher), and actually uses the ubiquitous 3D in interesting, non-offensive ways. Take a tween with you, expand your network, and rest assured, that even as a hater, you won't want to blow your head off.