We’ve all been there. Nursing a middle school (or high school) crush on a pop icon has been a part of life since the mid 50s. Whether it was Dion, Elvis, Farrah Fawcett, Debbie Gibson, or The Backstreet Boys, many of us have, at one point in our lives, professed our undying love for someone we’d never met (and were never going to meet).

Several dozen times in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, we hear young girls scream about how cute he is, how they will marry him, and how they love his hair. Few of them, though, have ever been within 100 yards of the guy, and their breadth of Bieber knowledge is limited to hearing his music, seeing him on television at the Video Music Awards, or (most often) catching his grainy pre-stardom home movies on YouTube.

With Never Say Never, we finally get a chance to see the real kid behind all the madness. And I have to admit, it’s not hard to like what you see.

No, Bieber is not for everyone. It’s not as if the entire country is flocking to the theaters this weekend like they flocked to their TV sets in February of 1964 to catch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Very few folks with a y-chromosome have caught Bieber Fever; his concerts more often than not look like a (really big) teenage girl slumber party. But for the target population, Never Say Never is just about as good as they come– a highly-entertaining, often revealing, intimate look at one of the world’s biggest pop stars.

It’s a story told through honest interviews with family and friends (and his manager, his stylist, his wardrobe supervisor, and his vocal coach), interlaced with footage from his September 2010 performance at Madison Square Garden. And of course, no Bieber biopic would be complete without those YouTube videos. The first bona fide celebrity of the YouTube generation, Bieber got his big break when uber-promoter Scooter Braun tripped on his bevy of videos. In less than a year, he had Bieber in the studio working with Usher on a debut album.

Not long after that, the youngster, not yet old enough to drive, was planning his world tour, prepping to share the stage with Boyz II Men, Miley Cyrus, and Ludacris.

Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 3D) shows us all these moments and more, providing the ultimate backstage pass to moviegoers, along with telling what amounts to a pretty nifty little underdog story.

The concert sequences are the real star of the show, filmed in hyper-crisp 3D with no fewer than a dozen different cameras. Lasers, pyrotechnics, and a video screen the size of a basketball court only add to the show, as Bieber (and his ‘crew’) bop through all his hits, from “U Smile” to “Baby”.

Never Say Never doesn’t have the political gravitas of U2’s Rattle and Hum or the ‘edginess’ of Madonna’s Truth or Dare, but it’s no less entertaining. I won’t be buying Bieber’s CD anytime soon, and I’m not showing any symptoms of Bieber Fever, but the truth is, I really didn’t mind learning a little more about him.

And say what you will, the kid knows how to put on a show.

3.5/5 stars