Directed by John Chu
Starring Justin Bieber
This Is It was a family’s desperate attempt to cash in on the recently deceased cadaver of a workhorse of a singer, songwriter and dancer who himself had tried to ramp up for one last tour to cash in on what was left of his reputation and fan base. For those who had followed his career, this was easy to ignore as his attempts for the last two decades, as he paid off families who claimed he had molested their children. He went broke, and fans who had discerning tastes moved on. Soon, the only people singing his praises were those who owed him money, or those who liked to sing false praises to false idols. You know, the same kind of people who claim to love Hank Williams, Jr., just because of his dad. Contrast this to Never Say Never, which has a young, talented,thriving boy who praises God for every meal and acknowledges that He might something to do with the kid’s success.
The movie acts as much as a documentary as it does a concert film. Starting out with his childhood, where his mother and
father split up when he was 10 months old, we get to see him from truly humble beginnings (he’s left-handed AND Canadian, like a double whammy) to playing with his mother’s friends from church who worked with him to hone his early musical talents into a wave of YouTube success. From there, he signed on with Atlanta producer Scooter Braun, met up with Michael Jackson contemporaries, Usher and L.A. Reid, and took off from there.
There are more obvious shadows of Michael Jackson in this film. Justin has a whole world that has been created for him that centers around his success in touring. Legions of people whose livelihood depends on his continued success. He saw Michael Jackson eulogized by Madonna during an awards show one time. Madonna blamed the world for taking Jackson’s childhood away. Bieber looked to his manager and asked that not happen to him.
The next scene you see him singing with Miley Cyrus, who has notoriously been in the news with a video showing her drug use. Keeping him away from those types might help. From all indications that the movie allows, they have done a decent job keeping God in his life and the mike in front of him. They mention several times towards the middle, when he gets a throat infection, the sheer number of shows that they have pushed him through. Now, on the eve of the Madison Square Garden performance that marks the centerpiece for the show, he is in jeopardy of sitting out many shows. Fortunately, a few days of rest and an absence of talking / singing allow the body to catch up with the spirit. For some reason, there wouldn’t have been a movie with out that show.
The harping about the prestige of MSG rings hollow for many who have never been and have no plans to ever attend a show
there. It’s just another, older, venue now. Doesn’t matter who’s played there, it all looks the same on the big screen. Usher, Ludacris, Sean Kingston and Jaden Smith all make appearances which vary in their effectiveness depending on how well you like them.
Another wearisome factor is the sheer number of pre- and post-pubescent girls professing their love for the 17-year-old. This kind of behavior dates back to The Beatles, and it never has been fun to watch people de-value themselves to touch the hem of his garment, when the garment that they long to touch, belongs to one who, while talented, is no less or more divine than anyone else. It is not the job of Bieber’s agent or manager to give a balanced perspective, though. Instead, what we get is a vignette surrounding those lucky few that get to sit on stage (one per show) and be serenaded to during the song “One Less Lonely Girl In The World.” Sting once compared touring as a form of piracy. You rush into town, make a big show, take all the valuables and then leave. Add to that an implanted wish to have the pirates return to pillage once more and you’ve got it down pat.
There are also more quick cuts during songs back and forth between documentary footage and concert footage than I would have cared for. Songs like his duet with Sean Kingston, “EenieMeenie” were ruined by this editing, but I suppose they felt they had the last 3 songs for continuity…
That said, Justin seems like a bright, happy, joyful and somewhat grounded kid. The background footage is ample and the story told is innocent enough to give one the impression that good intentions abound. It helps greatly that his mother, Grandfather and Grandmother are there at each step, but not in an overbearing way nor in a powerless way, either. Add to that a tremendous pop sensibility and you have something that just might be able to outlast the shadow of his predecessors. If that is what he wants to do.
(***1/2 out of *****)