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Edelstein: Justin Bieber’s Believe Affixes a Halo to the Pop Star’s Head

Co-produced by Bieber Time Films, Justin Bieber's Believe is a slick, loud commercial for the young phenomenon that is Justin Bieber. And here I must be very, very careful: My 15-year-old daughter beliebes with all her heart that Justin is everything he appears to be: an angel from on high (he descends to the stage on giant wings fashioned from guitars, drums, and other implements of his magic) but also humble, a guy in a room writing songs from the heart, songs he needs so bad just to get out. Most of those songs are about how much he wants to be your boyfriend. The work is hard, given that there are a limited number of words that rhyme with “girl.” Squirrel. Hurl.

The movie centers on the making of a show: the boffo, high-octane “Believe” tour of 2012.  Since the show and film have the same director, Jon M. Chu, and since Chu is recruited by Bieber and his entourage onscreen, it is also a film about the making of a film about the making of a show. The DVD will surely have a bonus feature about the making of a film about the making of a film about the making of a show. But this hardly matters because the message is consistent throughout. Justin “gives himself” to his public. (“I’m Justin Bieber. Thanks for believing in me because I believe in you.”) It has been rumored that Bieber hits on anything that moves, but I suppose that could come under the umbrella of “giving back” to the fans. The boy and the brand have merged so completely that it’s hard to know how much he beliebes his own words, but by all accounts the air is mighty thin at the summit of Mount Bieber, and he just might.

There is nothing in Believe about his recent, more unsavory exploits in Rio, although at one point Chu sits down with his subject and raises the question: Does Bieber think he’ll become a train wreck like so many young performers? Bieber doesn’t think so. “I have a good head on my shoulders,” he maintains. But he admits that he’s young and liable to make mistakes. What’s important, he says, is “to stay humble.” His manager, Scooter Braun, and business associates such as Usher confirm that he is, indeed, very humble. Down deep, he constantly hungers for “validation.”

Lacking validation, Bieber is obsessed with the haters. It’s all he talks about in recent interviews and how he begins Believe. “There are people who want to see you fall,” he says, in a spoken prologue. “Sometimes you have to take matters into your hands … and fly.” This is the cue for the descent on angel wings. And the worship. And the tears.

One dancer picked for the chorus cries at the prospect of supporting Justin’s dream. Tears are also shed for Avalanna Routh, a 6-year-old with a rare form of terminal cancer who announced to a hospital staff that she was “Mrs. Justin Bieber” — whereupon the winged Bieber descended from on high and swept her up. He still misses her. There is much screaming. In one number, he tells his fans that he needs a safety belt and lifts his shirt to put it on, revealing his well-defined abs. The roar shook the movie theater. Later, someone’s home video shows a little girl opening a Christmas gift containing tickets to a Bieber concert. When she is finished shrieking and then weeping she begins to speak in tongues.

I took not just my daughter but two of her friends to Believe, and they all moaned nearly as loudly as the girls onscreen. My daughter wants you to know that the movie is great and that you shouldn’t listen to a hater like me. I envy her belief.

Photo: Karsten "Crash" Gopinath/Open Road Films