Justin Bieber Will Convince Many Non-Beliebers in “Believe,” Just Not Anne Frank
There were many moments that captured Justin Bieber’s adorable fall from grace this year, but none with greater entertainment value than Justin’s performance at Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Anyone who’s anyone has peed in a bucket or graffitied the walls of a Marriott Extend-a-Stay, but it takes a certain kind of bad-highlights narcissist to go into the home of a child genocide victim and write, “She would have been a Belieber” in the guestbook. Believe (dir. John Chu), is supposed to explore exactly these kind of incidents, but is far more interested in showcasing Justin’s Vitamin Shoppe abs than examining the “trauma” of being a child star. (Note: if your net worth is $130 million, you don’t experience trauma. Period). It’s unfair to expect Believe to have much critical value as say, a YouTube clip of a squirrel swimming in its own shit, but it frequently fails even as entertainment, mustering the dramatic intensity of, say, a YouTube clip of a squirrel, swimming in its own shit. Plus there were only eight ab shots.
Believe tells the story of Bieber’s march towards manhood, as evidenced by his growth of a mustache and literally nothing else. It’s intended to be the follow-up to Never Say Never, a coming-of-age tale documenting Justin’s rise to fame thanks to social media and the physiology of an Aryan lesbian. But while Never Say Never followed eternal storytelling conventions such as “beginning, middle, end” and “having a point,” Believe spends about two minutes exploring its stated plot and the other eighty-eight jerking off to a GIF of itself. The film starts off as a fairly enjoyable propaganda piece about Justin’s latest album production, before veering way off course Thelma-and-Louise style into an endless segment in which manager Scooter Braun heroically gives away free tickets (yay!) and Justin becomes attached to a six-year-old girl with cancer (boo :( ). I’m not sure what any of this has to do with anything, except maybe to prove that it’s okay for a child star to sleep with prostitutes as long as he has empathy for the dying.
The film succeeds slightly more as entertainment in an unprotected sex kind of way – five minutes of incredible fun, followed by hours of regret. The opening scenes have Justin flying on stage in an eagle costume and you can’t help but think – you’re so talented, Justin! – even though he’s aided by the fact he’s flying on stage in an eagle costume. Still, Bieber’s legitimately talented – his voice is totally fine and his dancing pretty damn good. His lyrics may seem tired, but they reveal that he is attuned to social problems (famine) and working on solutions (love). “As long as you love me, we could be starving,” Justin croons. “We could be homeless.” It’s easy to hate on Bieber, because everything (as Vince would say), but Believe does showcase some entertaining performance sequences that almost make you think “seeing this was a good idea.”
Almost. At the heart of Believe is a cynicism that kills the how-old-is-this-kid-again boner you’re probably experiencing. The theme of the film, aptly stated by Justin, is that if you “believe in your dreams” they will “happen.” Not true, John Chu, and definitely not true, Anne Frank. The film then takes it a step further, featuring countless sequences of young girls achieving their dreams, which appear to be limited to getting an orchestra seat at a Justin Bieber concert in New Jersey. If you believe it hard enough, “Believe” seems to be saying, maybe Justin Bieber will come to your cancer hospital and sing to you. There’s nothing wrong with making a documentary about the Biebs, but you wish the filmmakers had thought a lot harder and dreamed a little bigger. Fantasy is at the core of the American dream, but Bieber will always be Canadian at heart.
Heather Dockray is a comedian and storyteller living in Brooklyn, NY. She was recently featured in Yeni Sleidi’s “Lesbians React to Sex Scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color.” You can see more of Heather’s work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyv2ZgX35Ws, follow her on twitter @Wear_a_helmet, and email her at email@example.com if you aren’t from Moveon.org.