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February 22, 2017

Justin Bieber’s Believe

by Franz Patrick

Justin Bieber’s Believe (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

The concert documentary, “Justin Bieber’s Believe,” directed by Jon M. Chu, will not likely win over new fans but it will satisfy those with Bieber Fever because the on-stage performances are energetic and over-the-top, the music is catchy and familiar, and there are numerous flattering close-ups of the subject under well-lit conditions. Despite functioning more as a commercial for an artist rather than an exposé of fame, warts and all, it can be enjoyed on a superficial level given the right and open mindset.

Perhaps the biggest criticism I have of the picture is its unwillingness to go beyond what’s safe. Even interviews that are designed to get us to learn more about what Bieber thinks of his career thus far, where it had been, and where he thinks it is going, notice that he is surrounded by people. When he is given a chance to answer, he is interrupted. The flow and the feelings that come with the answers dissipate. It might have been a better choice to have separated the subject from his comfort blankets. Perhaps then we would have gotten answers that felt real or surprising. Instead, we receive standard answers like the importance of having a good head on one’s shoulders.

Certain bits I found completely fascinating. For instance, going into the picture, I did not expect to be interested in the backup dancers. In concert films, dancers usually do not get much of the spotlight, let alone having a chance to speak directly to the camera, on more than one occasion, and talk about how much the opportunity means to them. They captured my attention because they are regular people around my age, possibly a bit younger, who strive to reach a goal—even if that goal means dancing next to someone who is a worldwide superstar and not becoming a pop phenomenon themselves.

Pertaining more to the subject, a personal touch is presented during small moments such as Bieber writing lyrics to a song, playing a melody on a piano, the joy he exudes when interacting with screaming and screeching fans. What do all these moments have in common? The subject is not always aware that there is a camera around. Compare these moments to the more formal interviews. In the latter situation, Bieber looks wooden, almost charmless, filtering out his answers just so they sound or are packaged just right.

I think there is an interesting portrait that is yet to come out from the boy who sang on YouTube and became a superstar. But that portrait will not come from someone who is close to Bieber; it will likely come from a director with purpose and uncompromising vision, someone who is not afraid to touch upon the darker side of celebrity and fame. I am willing to wait for that movie. In the meantime, here is cotton candy.


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