It’s every bit as enthusiastically admiring and image-enhancing as you’d expect a documentary co-produced by its title subject to be. Still, “Justin Bieber’s Believe” is a slickly entertaining piece of work that will doubtless delight the young pop star’s fan base, and possibly engage curiosity seekers who have heretofore remained immune or indifferent to Bieber Fever. Director Jon M. Chu’s follow-up to his similarly celebratory “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” (2011) won’t likely match the earlier film’s $99 million worldwide haul — and not just because this 2D feature can’t rely on that pic’s 3D bump — but homevid biz could be impressive.
Continuing his role as Bieber’s authorized biographer, Chu deftly mixes spectacular performance sequences with backstage interviews and observations, along with ample footage of ecstatically screaming female fans. (At one point, Chu audaciously intercuts visual comparisons between Bieber Fever and Beatlemania.)
There’s a pronounced increase in actual concert footage in this latest chapter, along with myriad indications that the fresh-faced innocent on view in “Never Say Never” has grown more mature and guarded, and much more self-aware, as his phenomenal career continues apace. Just as important, there is a mild but discernible tension percolating just below the film’s surface — a teasing hint that, no matter what Bieber achieves as an entertainer, he has already begun to realize that each new accomplishment can quickly turn into a proverbial hard act to follow.
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On the other hand, “Believe” also suggests that the indefatigably spirited Bieber still has a sense of humor about himself. Early in the documentary, he self-mockingly admits that his wispy excuse for a mustache is a “delusional” attempt to appear more grown-up. Later, we’re shown a generous except from the instant-classic “Funny or Die” segment in which a hectoring interviewer (Zach Galifianakis) delivers Bieber an old-fashioned belt-whipping as punishment for such purported misdeeds as publicly urinating in buckets (and, apparently, stealing Vanilla Ice’s hairdo).
Maintaining the ability to laugh at yourself probably comes in handy for someone in Bieber’s position, which “Believe” locates as dead-center in a bull’s-eye. Even as various friends and collaborators repeatedly attest to the seriousness with which Bieber approaches his work, the young phenom just as frequently speculates that, after rising so high in such a short amount of time, he has aroused the ire of haters who now are waiting — and hoping — for an equally speedy downfall.
“Believe” is not exactly a deeply serious study of fame and its transformative effects. But Chu stops far short of becoming a celebrity apologist while enabling his audience to appreciate how bumpy the ride can be sometimes for someone flying at Bieber’s current altitude. Noting the very public flameouts of such notables as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, the filmmaker bluntly tells his subject: “You are a perfect candidate to become a train wreck.” Bieber quickly dismisses that notion, but it’s easy to see that he has considered the possibility.
In addition to directing the film and appearing on camera as one of Bieber’s intimates, Chu also served as artistic designer of the extravagant stage show for Bieber’s 2012-13 “Believe” tour. Highlights from that show are scattered throughout the documentary, ranging from the exuberantly silly (Bieber appears to hover on wings constructed from his favorite musical instruments) to rousingly razzle-dazzle. Easily the movie’s most affecting moment occurs when Bieber momentarily breaks down while paying tribute to a young fan with whom he bonded before she lost her battle with cancer.
The stage show also showcases a lengthy video that smacks of cheeky revenge fantasy, with Bieber doing hand-to-hand (and foot-to-head) damage to the ninja-like paparazzi who relentlessly pursue him. The mayhem is all the more amusing because it comes not long after “Believe” introduces news footage of Bieber’s real-life clash with aggressive Brit photographers.
Production values — especially the sound mix — are first-class across the board. As for the music itself: If you like this sort of stuff, this is the sort of stuff you’ll probably like, a lot. And if you don’t, well, you wouldn’t willingly buy a ticket to “Believe” in the first place, right?