Among the difficult daily decisions mothers have to make piano practice or playdates, organic milk or college savings, the blare of a TV or the whine of disgruntlement a new judgment call looms this weekend. Should we or should we not take our daughters to see that Justin Bieber 3-D movie?
For many busy moms, Bieber is one of those youthful obsessions they can mostly ignore, like Silly Bandz. Since he's big on opt-in media like YouTube (where he has 950,000 followers) and Twitter (where he has 7 million) rather than on TV, he's a cultural artifact that can be known about without actually being experienced. Until now. His 3-D concert moviebiopic, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, opens in 3,105 places this weekend amid a heavy marketing campaign. Your children may not be able to resist the lure of that hair any longer.
In order to make life easier for mothers everywhere, this writer took two preteen girls to find out a) if it's worth shelling out $16 a ticket and 115 minutes of your day, b) if it will spark an outbreak of Biebermania in otherwise unaffected tweens, and c) if mothers will wish to inject neat Clorox into their eyeballs afterward just to try to erase the memory.
The verdict: unless they've already been infected, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never will not give your children a case of drooling Bieberfever. The surprise is that mothers may be a little more susceptible. The film is a finely woven mom-catching trap. The action moves back and forth between biography Justin as an adorable toddler being brought up by his feisty, faithful teen mom in a small Ontario town and concert footage. Interviews with dozens of girls choking up about their feelings for him are intercut with scenes of his grandparents making him tidy his room and lots of praying. While his show-business handlers marvel at his freakish talent, he gets chided by his vocal coach, Mama Jan, for eating food out of a backstage trash can. ("But I put it there," he protests.)
As a biopic, Never Say Never is relentlessly upbeat. Bieber's defining characteristic, apart from his sweetness, might be his ambition. His former soccer coach reminisces about how Justin never learned to pass the ball. Much is made by the adults around him of the speed of his rise he was still performing in school gyms as recently as 2009 and his work ethic. We watch old video of him, midway between YouTube fame and superstardom, singing for local radio DJs in an effort to get airplay for his songs of unabashed puppy love. He sings all the time. After being told not to, he tries to sing Usher to Usher at their first meeting. When the R&B crooner eventually hears him, he takes the boy under his wing; by 2010, Bieber is selling out Madison Square Garden and giving a leg up in the business to Will Smith's kid Jaden, who provides one of several famous cameos in the movie. (Miley Cyrus and Kobe Bryant also pop up.) All this, and he never stops beings so darned polite. In short, it's a movie carefully crafted to appeal to a Bieber fan's gatekeeper her mom. After all, the mothers are the ones who will be chaperones, financiers and splurgers on T-shirts and posters. Not many tweens can afford concert tickets. Never Say Never's message: Follow your dreams (very nicely). What mom could argue with that?
Case in point: what self-respecting tween would enjoy the same musicians her mother does? Here's how our tweens Hannah, 11, and Ginger, 10 saw it:
Were you dying to see that movie?
Hannah: No. I don't think he should be that famous.
Ginger: I don't think girls should be obsessing over him.
Well, what would have made you see it?
Ginger: If a friend invited me and they'd already paid for the tickets.
Hannah: Even then, if I had homework, I don't think I'd go.
Did your opinion of him change after the film?
Ginger: I used to think every girl who liked him was dumb. Now I sort of understand it more. I understood him more than as just some dude who always has girls all over him.
Wouldn't you like, just a little bit, to be Justin Bieber's girlfriend?
Hannah: No. You'd never have a real relationship, with all those screaming lunatics around all the time.
Ginger: ... and knowing that all those girls hated you.
Well, should we buy one of his albums?
Download one of his songs?
Wouldn't you at least like to follow him on Twitter?
Hannah: What's Twitter?
Oh. Well, how would you feel if you saw him on the street?
Hannah: I guess I'd be kind of psyched.
Oh come on. He's so cute.
Hannah: Maybe if I got a free ticket to his concert.
Didn't the scene where his friends gave out free tickets make you cry?
Hannah: No, but if I stared at the screen too hard, the 3-D glasses made my eyes water.
Seriously, wouldn't you cry a bit if you got free tickets?
Ginger: I think I'd give them to someone who really wanted them.
You wouldn't want to go up on stage and be "the lonely girl" (the fan who gets taken on stage to be serenaded by Bieber)?
Hannah: No! I'm scared of crowds. I don't even talk in class.
Ginger: No! I don't want him touching my body.
Are you guys totally sure he's not cute?
Ginger: I thought he was talented ... but he needs to pull his pants up.
Hannah: Oh, all boys do that.
I can't believe you guys didn't like him.
Hannah: Some of the fans seemed too old. And I saw a man in the crowd.
Ginger: I didn't realize the fans would be so desperate.
So you really don't feel any different about him after seeing that movie?
Ginger: A smidge. I don't hate him. But I don't like him.
Hannah: I think he's O.K. He's just a normal kid. Except he's a pop star. His whole life is not normal.
Hmmm. What would it take for you to see the movie again?
Hannah: If Ginger was desperate to go again, I'd go.
Ginger: I'd go again for, say, $100.