The Desperate Heartthrob, by Matt Warren
Like a lot of assholes, I scoffed at the notion that Justin Bieber: Never Say Never could possibly be a good movie. This was, after all, Justin motherfucking Bieber we were talking about. At first glance, the sixteen-year-old Bieber hardly seems as rich a subject for a biographical documentary as, say, Joan Rivers or paparazzo Ron Galella (Smash His Camera), to name two recent examples. What else was there to learn about the tween icon that couldn’t be learned by merely skimming the latest issues of Tiger Beat and Teen Disney? But with a not-bad score of 52 on Metacritic and an even-better 65% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, it looked like there was more to the moppet than meets the eye.
Never Say Never opens with the Canadian teen pop superstar sitting behind the wheel of his commuter sedan, hopelessly mired in unmoving L.A. gridlock. There’s a heatwave going on, and his soft-butch haircut proves scant protection for the unblinking summer sun. He tries to adjust the AC, but to no avail. It’s broken. And with this small indignity, something deep and essential within Bieber’s core soul goes kablooey. Stoically, he gathers up his briefcase and abandons the vehicle, setting out on what will become—unbeknownst to him—a violent descent into the broken heart of the American Dream far more harrowing than any VMA performance or “Lopez Tonight” appearance.
Bieber starts out on foot, heading west. His destination is the Venice, CA home of his estranged wife Beth (Barbara Hershey.) We’ll eventually learn that Bieber is a white-collar worker-bee who has recently been laid off from his defense contractor job. He’s desperate to make it home in time for his daughter’s birthday, despite the fact that Hershey has a restraining order out against him. We get the sense that Bieber’s job was the troubled man’s last tether to sanity, and that, unanchored and unhinged, the Juno Award winner now poses a dangerous threat to both himself and the world at large. And it doesn’t take long for this assertion to be proved correct.
Finding that his Verizon iPhone doesn’t get any service in downtown, Bieber wanders into a local bodega, looking for change to use a pay phone. But he quickly runs afoul of the ill-tempered Korean shopkeeper over the man’s prices, and is further irritated by the immigrant’s poor grasp of English, agitated that the man has not embraced the spirit of assimilation that is every newly-minted American’s price of entry to the privileges of Benjamin Franklin’s City on a Hill.
“I don’t know what your problem is,” Bieber says, “I can read stop signs in both French and English.” Pushing the headset mic away from his dreamy, beestung lips, Bieber snatches away the shopkeeper’s bat and uses it to basically ruin the dude’s shit.
“Looks like I got here just in time,” he says, apropos of nothing, “Justin Bieber of time.”
Leaving the shop, Bieber stumbles into gang territory and is quickly confronted by a pack of fearsome vatos in hairnets and itchy-looking flannel workshirts. He exchanges some terse words with the leader, and leaves to find a phone. While he’s leaving a message for his ex-wife, the vatos reappear around the corner in their Impala with guns drawn, Morrissey loudly blaring from the car’s speakers. Bieber spots them in the nick of time, however, and quickly improvises an AMAZING drum solo on a few empty paint cans that just happen to be laying nearby. Awed by the twinky troubadour’s drum prowess, the head vato steers the car into a brick wall.
Smiling, Bieber hangs up and casually strolls over to the smoldering wreckage, pausing just long enough to claim the gangsters’ black duffel bag full of semi-automatic weapons as his prize.
“Looks like you just got burned…” he smirks, “Justin Bieburned.”
Meanwhile, at LAPD headquarters, it’s sad sack police sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall)’s last day on the job. The veteran law enforcement officer is reluctant to retire, but has agreed to in deference to his wife’s concerns over his safety. Prendergast does his best to take his co-workers’ jibes in stride, but it’s clear from the pained look on his face that he desperately wishes to remain on the force. Like Bieber, Duvall is dependant on his job to provide his life with purpose and meaning. And like Bieber, without his job, Duvall will be utterly, hopelessly lost.
Luckily, the drudgery of Prendergast’s final day is shattered when the shopkeeper from the bodega comes in to file an assault charge. Prendergast is intrigued by the man’s wild story of being attacked by a bat-wielding, porcelain-skinned lesbian. Reinvigorated, he decides to investigate.
Back on the streets, Bieber, thirsty and in desperate search of some Pepsi Max, goes into a military surplus store. Inside, the store’s leather-clad, neo-fascist proprietor not-incorrectly pegs Bieber as a sort of kindred spirit, and provides the WASP-y warbler with yet more weaponry. Though not totally unsympathetic to the man’s ultra-nationalistic viewpoint, Bieber quickly tires of the man’s prejudices and croons to him, in a voice as soft and supple as newly fallen snow, “Baby, baby, baby… YOUR EXTREME RACIAL THEORIES HAVE NO PLACE IN GOD’S LOS ANGELES!” then murders the man with an awesome barrage of psychic brain lasers.
Standing over the charred corpse, Bieber quips, “I’m bored of you… Justin Biebored.”
Back at the precinct, Sgt. Prendergast digs through the clues of the case and discovers the kindercantor killer’s identity—Justin Drew Bieber, aka “BIEB-FENS,” from singer’s vanity license plate. Armed with this information, Prendergast tracks down Beiber’s ex-wife for questioning. Frightened, she begs him to bring her husband in at any cost.
“Do you think this Justin-Bieber-as-Michael-Douglas-in-Falling–Down thing is getting old yet?” he asks her.
“Not quite yet,” she replies, “but you should probably wrap it up pretty soon.”
Solemnly, Duvall looks down at the carpet and nods. “Agreed,” he says, “agreed.”
And still, Bieber continues west. Unaware that the police are now actively looking for him, and, in any event, way past the point of caring, he continues to leave death and destruction wherever he goes. Victims of the Teen Choice favorite’s wrath swell to include everyone from unaccommodating food service employees to snooty Beverly Hills country clubbers. He even finds the time to fire a goddamned rocket launcher at that eternal symbol of the inefficiency and decadence of late-period capitalism: L.A. freeway construction.
Kaboom! Big explosion. Hellfire. The corners of Bieber’s über-kissable lips curl into a chilling rictus of mad judgement. “Looks like your carpool lane is gone…” he cracks, “Lady Ga-gone.”
Eventually, Prendergast tracks BIEB-FENS down and corners him at the end of the Venice pier. Gun drawn, Duvall tries to reason with the singer, but to no avail. Bieber has crossed the Rubicon. Sensing that his luck has run out, Bieber reaches into his pocket. Prendergast is left with no choice but to pull the trigger on his weapon. Shot, Bieber staggers backwards and tumbles off the pier. He hits the water, dead, his beautiful chestnut-haired soul finally free from the degradations of the mortal realm.
Pendergrass rushes over to see what it was BIEB-FENS had been reaching for and discovers… a teddy bear, Bieber’s final birthday present to his daughter. A single tear falls from the corner of my eye onto the keyboard as I recall the moment. So tender, so tragic. Goodbye, Justin. This was our fault, not yours. Spoilers.
Okay, so yeah. Maybe I didn’t actually see Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Maybe I haven’t done a lot of things in life I said I did. But it’s true the Bieber movie got surprisingly good reviews, and it might actually be pretty interesting. If you have kids or whatever, I’m sure you could probably do a lot worse. But until such a time as my seed finds purchase, I’m more than content to be one of the old farts who just doesn’t get it. Now, when’s “Matlock”?