Written by: Hannah Tran | October 8th, 2021
Justin Bieber: Our World (Michael D. Ratner, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
When Justin Bieber released his debut EP, My World, quickly followed by his full-length debut album, My World 2.0, it might have genuinely felt that we were stepping into his world. The so-called “songbird of our generation” took over the radios and became a powerhouse of pop at the age of 13. Ten years ago, I watched the first of the films documenting Bieber’s life, Never Say Never, a 3D concert experience with the same premise as this new documentary. Following the days leading up to a major concert, Justin Bieber: Our World finds a 27-year-old Bieber making his first return to the stage since the pandemic shutdowns. This new foray into Bieber’s life is a quiet look into a man who is escaping his past but also built by it and, much like its title, reconciling with his demons by turning his focus outward.
Moving back and forth between concert footage and the weeks of preparation leading up to the performances, Our World is a pandemic film that doesn’t spend too much time explaining the machinations of the world we’ve been living in for nearly two years. In fact, it uses the restrictions to create something special. Having to abide by safety protocols, the concert is designed for a set of VIP guests who watch from the luxurious balconies of the Beverly Hilton. Meanwhile, Justin walks out on a rooftop stage. Due to weight restrictions, his minimal set is composed of steel bars built into a pyramid behind him with simple light attached. The design is striking, sometimes apocalyptic, and it creates for a number of interesting visual moments we wouldn’t have without the restrictions.
Despite the fascinating look and the heartwarming excitement from the crowd above, the film overstays its welcome, and a lot of powerful moments are let down by the tediousness of the scenes around them. Director Michael D. Ratner (Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil) occasionally makes bold choices, such as shifting to black-and-white, showing concert footage from Bieber’s past, and stitching the dance performances with moments from the rehearsals. These all work to drive forward the film’s emotion and appreciation of the artists at its center. However, the number of songs done in a more conventional way combined with the rapid editing of the film as a whole makes for a tiring experience that quickly loses momentum.
But in these emotional moments, the conceit of the film is extraordinarily clear. Watching Bieber perform his earliest songs in a mature, more confident voice reminds us of how long he has been a pop figure. Watching him perform his latest songs, we see how much work he’s had to invest in himself in the years we haven’t heard from him. In his painful ballad “Lonely,” Bieber sings to the audience, “What if you had it all? But nobody to call? Maybe then you’d know me.” The range of emotion and maturity within one concert is jarring, but the ultimate element that underscores the ability for Bieber to even be in the world to perform for these crowds is the people around him. Between his family, his wife Hailey, and his team working to keep him grounded so he may develop in his own way, fans will be happier to see him healthy than they will to see him perform.
Riding with Hailey in a car, Bieber jokes that he saw a fire on the side of the road once, and after he pulled over and started to sing, the fire magically stopped. He’s poking fun at those who elevate him to something beyond human. His voice may be synonymous with pop music, but Justin doesn’t want to be a God. Our World highlights a brief but powerful moment in the life of a star who spent so long in the spotlight and who is now attempting to turn that spotlight back onto the ones he loves and the ones who love him.