‘Justin Bieber's Believe’ Review: Portrait of an Artist Who's No Longer a ‘Baby’

'Justin Bieber's Believe' Review: Portrait of an Artist Who's No Longer a 'Baby'

Growing pains and the price of fame take center stage in this tour-documentary follow-up to “Never Say Never”

The idea that a 19-year-old kid worth $130 million can respond to questions about level-headedness with “I’m not going to be stupid” might be laughable, but few people in the audience of “Justin Bieber’s Believe” are probably going to be laughing.Justin_2

A movie designed expressly for the music star’s fans and spun directly from the success of its pop-biography predecessor, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” Jon M. Chu’s follow-up documentary aims to look inside Bieber as his success grows and the singer comes of age. But it’s a microscope of which the young star is all too aware, and there’s simply too much lacquer on his image to get through to who Bieber is or how he actually feels. “Believe” feels earnest but superficial, a next-chapter look at a star who hasn’t come enough to terms with where he’s come from to contemplate where he is, or where he’s going.

Shot concurrently with Bieber’s 2013 “Believe” tour, the film presumes that you know the singer’s backstory, not to mention his personal peccadilloes over the past year or two. Contrasting footage from the tour with fan tributes, collaborator interviews and reflections from Bieber himself, Chu makes this second doc an examination of a phenomenon in motion, commenting on the great opportunities – and, sure, occasional challenges – that come with international superstardom.

See video: Justin Bieber Addresses Being a Possible Train Wreck, Fights Gravity in First ‘Believe’ Trailer (Video)

It’s easy to judge Bieber’s immaturity and his misbehavior – and to chortle at his insistence that he can handle the prospect of never being told “no.” But there is a bona fide truth in Chu’s observation that the singer is going through typical adolescent experiences, including being a jerk and making mistakes, that few of us ever had to do with the media scrutiny that Bieber constantly endures.

For example, Bieber appears unquestionably ridiculous mad-dogging UK paparazzi after they threaten to give him a beating. But how many young men have been forced to deal with people with cameras following their every move, and antagonizing them at every opportunity in the hopes of provoking a tantrum? The film never makes Bieber a martyr or seeks the audience’s pity, but it fairly acknowledges he is dealing with a kind of attention most will never face.

See video: Justin Bieber Reveals Secret Talent at Laugh Factory Gig: I F— ‘Bitches’ (Video)

Although there are no moments like Chu’s sublime slow-motion shot of Bieber’s hair-flip in “Never Say Never,” the director doesn’t shy away from making light fun of the singer’s hallmarks, and even a handful of his misdeeds. (He includes a sequence from Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” with Bieber, which culminates in the comedian whipping the singer with his belt.)

That said, Chu underscores the appreciation and reciprocity that Bieber and his team show the fans by capturing impresario Scooter Braun as he hands out tickets to fans waiting for the show. And in one genuinely poignant sequence, Bieber breaks down as he recalls his experiences with 6-year-old Avalanna Routh, dubbed “Mrs. Bieber,” for whom he performed before she died of cancer.

See video: Justin Bieber Addresses Anne Frank Comments with Zach Galifianakis (Video)

Far from being a somber tribute to the people whose lives he’s touched, however, “Believe” captures some dynamite concert footage, and Chu’s own maturity behind the camera is self-evident as he not only films the action, but also coordinates it to maximize its impact cinematically. Indeed, even if some of Bieber's songs remain unappealing, Chu chronicles their performance during the tour with a vividness and excitement that often feels infectious.

Ultimately, it’s hard to look at the film from any sort of non-fan perspective and not see it as less than hagiography – a tribute to Bieber's success, and a complimentary portrait of how well he’s supposedly dealt with it. But even if the sort of documentary to allow its subject to describe without irony the intimate moments that he has “when I’m on that crane,” “Believe” is probably as personal as Justin Bieber circa 2013 is going to get – not because, given the ubiquitousness of the media coverage of his rise to stardom, he won’t open up, but rather that he probably can’t.

  • JamesAt17

    So as of 12/24/13 he has said that he is quitting his singing and that the media has told lies about him. Now I wonder just what those lies were of the things caught on video. Now we will all have to wait and see what he really is going to be doing next if he truly is going to quit singing.

    • Brad

      What does that rant have to do with this review? Or for that matter with “Believe”? At least make an attempt to stick with the original basis for this article, the review of this movie. Leave your bitching for somewhere more appropriate like say TMZ.

  • hupto

    When Lauren Bacall was this kid's age, she seemed like a woman of the world, seducing (on film and in life) Humphrey Bogart with her innate maturity. By contrast, Bieber behaves like a spoiled, cranky nine-year-old. His retirement from public life can't come soon enough.

  • Belieber (not really hahaha)

    Excuse my negativity hupto, but sadly, I would think his behaviour is pretty typical of a 19 yr old boy of Gen Y or whatever generation he is from. After all, he is really just a person like the rest of us.

    • hupto

      And sadly, you're right. :-(

      • peter

        Every person is an individual, so he does not represend anybody, only himself. If you raise your kids carefully, he/she will be a good person as an adult (most likely…) in my opinion.

        • RB

          Thank you for comment Peter! I grew up listening to hard rock drug bands, and going to their concerts. I consider myself successful in life for what I’ve done for myself and family.

  • Brad

    I plan on going to see this in a few days.. So far I have read positive reviews. Unlike anyone in history before him, Justin Bieber has had to grow up in the 24/7 instantaneous social media coverage that is a fact of life today, that wasn't part of everyday life even 5 years ago.

  • Kim

    I thought this was a great way to see what exactly Justin goes through! What I got from this movie was a typical teen trying to find himself, raging hormones, finding love, working hard and living his fans with all his heart especially the sweet Mrs. Bieber. He is a family boy and is trying to be a typical teenage boy that is constantly under a fine microscope.

  • Pamela

    I'm a mother of an 18 yr old and I totally saw my son in this movie…very typical actions. Nithing out of the ordinary trust me. My son has experimented with pot, he has driven fast in his 1st car, he has crazy hormones and lives the hot girls, he is always flashing his body cause he works out and my son basically thinks he's the greatest! Nothing Jystin did was far out there. My son is heading into college to be a physical therapist. It's just how teen boys are. Not all, but most! Stay true to yourself Justin!

  • Robb

    I'm 39 years old and I loved it! Dedication, hard working, passion and some great tunes! Good for you JB!

  • RB

    Justin is not retiring, he is reinventing himself for age 20 (his teen years are over with, and he is now wearing regular trousers) with new music and a possible world tour for 2015. My family likes his Believe movie.