I should start by stating by own critical bias. When last week I told my younger, Bieber-loving sister that I’d be seeing Justin Bieber’s 3D movie on Friday night at Union Square, she told me straight up that if I were to write a negative review she would kick me out of the family. Still, neither this devotion, nor a colleague’s warning that she felt more afraid when interviewing Bieber fans than at any point during the Gathering of the Juggalos, prepared me for what I was about to face when I bought my opening-night ticket for Never Say Never 3D.
The screaming started well before the movie. First when the doors outside the theater opened. Then over an advertisement for Bieber’s upcoming remix album (Raekwon, meet your new fanbase). And finally, when the majority of the crowd mistook the trailer for Kung-Fu Panda 2 to be the start of the feature. However, the real screaming didn’t begin until a 12 year-old Bieber finally appeared onscreen, and it continued for about 15 minutes, a 15 minutes that could be appropriately described as a battle between the screamers and the shushers.
In reality — and I say this at the risk of exile — the crowd was probably more interesting than the movie, even though the latter does everything it can to blur the distinction between the two. In 3D, Bieber is constantly pointing at you, or maybe to you, singling you out from all the other audience members as the one whose smile makes him smile. Onscreen fans are continuously interviewed, each wearing Bieber merchandise and proclaiming their love for the teen sensation.
Before every concert, manager Scooter Braun walks around the venue giving out tickets to a couple of these fans, presumably the ones whose parents wouldn’t or couldn’t shell out a couple hundred bucks to buy tickets of their own. It’s his way of giving back. He loves himself for it, and judging by the screams of the audience — one girl yelled out, “I love you Scooter Braun,” when the name of his production company opened the movie — they love him for it, too. A few other people who the audience seemed to love, or at least screamed for: Bieber’s mom, Bieber’s stylist, Bieber’s grandparents, Bieber’s old next-door neighbor, Usher, Bieber’s vocal coach. There are more that I’m forgetting.
What will surely go down as the film’s true gift to the annals of cinema came about halfway through, when a discussion of Bieber’s world-famous ‘do turns into a close-up, slow-motion shot of the kid flipping his bangs. The hair comes out towards you; the hair turns to the side; the hair recedes. Whereas the origins of the Caesar cut can now only be found chiseled into a few pieces of marble, future generations will be able to regard Bieber’s hair in all three dimensions.
Yet even after all this — after all the screaming, the swooning, and the girl who cried, “Bitch!” when someone put her lips on Bieber’s cheek — I still was unprepared for what happened at the movie’s conclusion. The narrative climaxes when Bieber overcomes the odds — and a throat infection — to perform in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. Never Say Never, indeed. And as the title song played, a couple girls stood up at the front of the theater, in front of the screen, and started to dance. By the time Bieber came out to perform “Baby” for his encore, a legitimate mosh pit had formed. A large portion of the crowd was now up front, jumping around and waving their hands. I, however, was not among them. No, I was still in my seat, nodding my head and singing all the words.