The appeal of One Direction seems to be that they sing what their rapturous fans want to hear. Like, literally. “They say what I want to hear,” one teen gushes about the boy band. “I know they love me,” insists another.
The Morgan Spurlock-directed concert doc One Direction: This Is Us does nothing to dissuade these girls about their superstar crushes, following Liam, Louis, Niall, Zayn and Harry—oh, Harry! (don’t judge: every girl’s got a favorite)—on their 2012-13 Take Me Home Tour across Europe, North America, Australia and Japan. These boys are as big as the Beatles, drawing hordes of screaming, crying fans not only to their concerts but to the hotels, airports and streets they pass through—except, that is, when they’re in Jackass-inspired disguises.
None older than 21, these mates bring boyish enthusiasm to even the film’s most manufactured moments. In fact, their very existence was hatched for the 2010 British X Factor. When none progressed in the show as a solo act, they were formed into a group under Simon Cowell’s mentorship. They didn’t win the show, but Cowell, a producer on the film, signed them to his label anyway, and since then, they’ve exploded into one of the biggest bands in the world.
To their credit, the boys seem aware of the tenuousness of their situation. They don’t want to be flashes in the pan. They want to endure, like the musicians on their T-shirts: the Doors, Hendrix, the Stones. But if Spurlock’s behind-the-scenes footage is any indication, their fate lies in the hands of others: their songwriters, their choreographers, their wardrobe designers, and their security guys, who wrangle them onto the stage.
Spurlock uses 3-D to inject energy into One Direction’s onstage performances, because, let’s face it, after awhile, all their songs start to sound the same and they admit they’re lousy dancers. In one comic-book-themed set, he freezes the boys into animated superhero versions of themselves, complete with word bubbles.
But otherwise there’s nothing innovative or revealing in this feature-length ad for the band. The too-brief interviews with experts, including rock journalists and a neuroscientist, feel like they’re having a laugh under their pseudo-serious demeanors. Other than a brief reference to discord in the group very early on, there’s no indication that the boys are anything other than BFFs, and there’s no presence of smoking, drinking (legal where they’re from), drugs or women. Sweetie Zayn, who buys his mum a home during the movie, just got engaged, for chrissake!
Make no mistake: The target audience for This Is Us will love it. One Direction has those girls in the palms of their hands. But Spurlock, who revolutionized activist documentary filmmaking with Super Size Me, has set the genre back with this cinema equivalent of a glossy teen magazine cover.
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Starring: Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson
Release date: Aug. 30, 2013