It’s more than just a tad convenient that once beloved and admired and now divisive and controversial pop star Justin Bieber would announce his retirement on Christmas Eve, one day prior to the release of his not abashedly awful, but certainly redundant (and not screened for critics) concert film Justin Bieber’s: Believe. (He also just completed a dreadfully mediocre slow release album where new songs were unleashed once a week since October.) While the latter and better half of the film suggests a young man on the verge of burning out far too quickly, the move reeks of a perfectly timed PR stunt designed to bring as many of the Stratford, Ontario native’s fans to theatres to watch a bunch of what they already knew to be true and nothing they haven’t seen before.
Following 19 year old Bieber as he embarks on a lengthy tour to promote his 2012 Believe album, there’s definitely a sense of sameness to this assembly line documentary project since the differences between this and his previous behind-the-scenes look Never Say Never are mostly negligible. That could be as a result of returning director and creative consultant for Justin’s tour, Jon Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation). It also comes produced by The Beebs, his manager Scooter Braun, and the co-discoverer of Justin, Usher. Chu films a bunch of musical numbers from a Miami concert towards the end of the tour that will find the teen heartthrob playing all his fans’ favourites. There’s a smattering of behind the scenes stuff as Justin talks with producers, dancers try out for spots on the tour, and a lot of talk about always believing and never giving up.
While it’s understandable that Bieber and company would want to document just how much the largely self-starting singer-songwriter would want to document his maturation as an artist, the more things change in the artist’s private life, the more things stay the same for the cameras. It would be easy for a cynic to question Justin’s sincerity in light of recent events where he seems to be openly flaunting his celebrity and doing stupid, potentially harmful things on camera when he thinks no one is watching (vomiting on stage, peeing in buckets, tweeting about Anne Frank, etc.), but here when sticking to the corporate mandated game plan of just saying how much he loves his fans, Justin seems like a humble and amiable enough guy. It could be because he’s always surrounded by his inner circle all the time, but at least a look at his interactions with a 6 year old fan dying of a genetic condition, he seems to care enough to handle how much it meant to him in a tasteful manner.
And credit once again has to be given to Chu, who once again proves he knows how to shoot dance and action (a brief theatrical looking interlude with Justin engaging in battle with an army of paparazzi is actually pretty cool), but this is the same movie he already made. The movie itself suggests that Chu even had to be pretty much harangued into doing it by Braun and Bieber, but at least he’s a good sport about their inability to take no or even “I’ll think about it” for an answer. Chu’s repetition is really the only thing wrong with Believe as an actual film, and it’s not even his fault. While Justin has a considerable amount of stage presence – making One Direction and their film from earlier this year look like the complete hack work it was – there’s just no need for this thing to have a theatrical release. It would be a cool DVD for die hard fans to own, but ultimately why would anyone else even bother when you could just rent, download, or buy the same exact thing?
It doesn’t help that Bieber and Braun are portraying themselves as chronic underdogs early on as the result of “constant hatin’.” Such a sentiment is as arrogant as fame gets because just the fact that he has haters it means that he’s already done something right. The persecution complex these guys seem to have rings false, but it isn’t dwelled on. The film also pays passing lip service to Bieber’s recent troubles via clips from his Between Two Ferns appearance with Zach Galifianakis and Chu cheekily asking Bieber to his face “Do you know you’re the perfect candidate for a trainwreck?” Of course it isn’t going to address anything serious head on, but at least they don’t duck the issue in the film’s second half. It’s not much, but it’s appreciated to break up the monotony.
But the most curious thing about it all is still Bieber’s retirement announcement. It has to be some sort of stunt or prank or temporary thing, only because the very announcement flies in the face of everything the movie seems to stand for and the image he seemingly wants to cultivate for himself. For all his talk of never giving up and always sticking together through thick or thin, it’s kind of an abrupt cutting of losses. Maybe the time away will do him some good. They should have waited until his comeback for another movie, though. Still, judging by the teenage girls who were weeping before the film even started and the alarming number of people who felt comfortable enough to take out their phones for flash photography of what was happening in a movie, the audience for such a film wouldn’t have cared as long as Justin was there.