Ever since Mel Gibson's Aramaic flog-fest "The Passion of the Christ" brought in $84 million on its opening weekend in 2004, en route to a $612 million worldwide box office draw, film marketers have sought to emulate Gibson's courtship of the almighty Christian dollar.
"The Chronicles of Narnia" movies have since trod similar marketing waters. So did "The Nativity." But film studios hedge their bets on most movies, preferring to tap several distinct audiences for the broadest possible reach.
When it comes to the new concert documentary "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," which opened Friday, the packs of tween girls guaranteed to buy multiple tickets to see their idol in 3-D and 50-feet tall might make attracting the Christian audience something of an afterthought. Or maybe Paramount Pictures's push for a more righteous Bieber Fever is aimed at polishing a 16-year-old's already squeaky-clean image into something even more reverent.
The face of this angle of the movie's marketing is Pattie Mallette. And it's a face that looks a lot like Bieber's own. She's Justin's mom, and she's an evangelical Christian.In a telephone interview Friday, Mallette said she found her faith after "a rough childhood" during which she "got into a lot of the wrong things." At age 17, she ended up in the hospital after a suicide attempt.
"I cried out to God," she said. "If you're real, if you have a purpose and plan for me, it's got to be better than what I've figured out for myself," Mallette, now 35, told God. "I have to try it your way."
She said her pleas worked. Like many born-again Christians, Mallette felt a sense of euphoria in the aftermath of surrendering herself to what many evangelicals call "a relationship" with Jesus Christ.
"I was on a high for like a week," she said. "It was something I'd never experienced before, outside of drugs. I could see a living God."
Mallette, a single mom brought Justin up in a nondenominational Christian church in their native Canada, where he experienced the upbeat, contemporary worship music native to evangelical congregations. When Justin turned 12 and said he no longer wanted to attend church on Sundays, Mallette didn't force him.
The marketing materials for the movie point out that "Bieber recently released a video called 'PRAY' which demonstrates his faith with footage from earthquake-torn Haiti and post-Katrina New Orleans, as well as clips of the star visiting the sick and identifying with military families and the poor. Mallette is participating in Paramount's Christian marketing angle and said she thinks the filmmakers saw an opportunity in mother-and-son's lifestyle.
"Faith is such a big part of our lives," she said. "You can't cut it out of the movie, so they might as well make it work for them."
In recent weeks, "Never Say Never" has been screened for pastors around the country, including in St. Louis, a page torn from the "Passion of the Christ" marketing playbook. A press release for the film claimed Mallette was "serene" on the verge of her 16-year-old's massive world tour "knowing that she and her son are following God's purpose for their lives." Asked on Friday what she thought God's purpose for Justin's life was, Mallette didn't pause.
"His purpose is to be the voice of an entire generation," she said. "To raise up the standard." The moral standard? "Yes," she said. "To raise the standard in a moral way, whatever that may mean."
Being the moral voice of a generation is a lot to put on the shoulders of a 16-year-old kid, just three years from being discovered via YouTube. But Mallette said there are plenty of Christians who would like Justin to use his megafame to bring young souls to Jesus.
"I know a lot of Christians want to evangelize and bring people to God, but I believe that parts of Justin's own spiritual journey may not look the way religious organizations want them to look," she said.
Mallette is very aware that her son's age is a factor in the way he sees his own faith today. The family employs a "traveling pastor" while on tour, she said, and mother and son go to church together now and again.
"Honestly, I think he's up and down," Mallette said of her son's current state of seeking. "He's trying to find himself and find God. He's 16. But God has hooks in his heart. He's still on his own journey. Mine is mine, and he can't have mine. He needs his own."
Paramount was also pushing a clip this week from "Never Say Never" in which Justin and his friends say grace over a slice of pizza, very much in the manner that most teenage boys would say grace over pizza.
"Thank you, Lord, for this pizza," one of Justin's buddies says. "This cheese, pineapple, bacon, pepperoni ... and thank you to Hawaiian people, for making my pizza."
Justin laughs, but then red hoodie hood reverently perched atop a baseball hat restates the prayer more seriously, expressing the eternal gratitude for what is most important to 16-year-olds everywhere.
"Thank you, Lord," says Justin Bieber. "Thank you that we have great friends, and we're able to hang out together and have a good time...Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun