One Direction: This Is Us is foremost a means for fans to have the the British boy band’s concert experience without physically being there. Chocked with crisp, close-up footage of the youthful quintet performing their hits, Morgan Spurlock’s film makes dreams come true for millions of admirers. For the first half hour or so, it’s also a decently informative guide to some of the world’s most popular singers. Tracking the rise of Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson from X-Factor contestants to international sensations, it’s a respectable yet standard meet-and-greet… that is until it devolves into a giant P.R. piece.
At this juncture, the documentary becomes strictly for the fans. Focusing on backstage hijinks and frequent cutaways to teen screamers (in the crowd and saturating the streets outside the group’s hotels), the events gradually lose the average viewer, though not without trying. To maintain the initial hook, the film’s brain trust (including producer/group organizer Simon Cowell) trot out regular anecdotes in which the young men, their parents, and their employees insist that they’re average blokes who just happen to have not so average jobs. Though the guys seem far from jerks, these confessionals, especially a closing campfire session where the lads ponder their future, feel sadly forced and steadily cast doubt on the legitimacy of the film’s non-fiction label.
None of these issues are likely to occur for those enthusiastically shelling out bucks for One Direction: This Is Us, but for the layman viewer they raise all sorts of concerns. The global hysteria over a group that doesn’t write its own songs and was manufactured by arguably the music industry’s foremost villain is troubling. (Older millennials are apt to both pine for the days of ‘N Sync and The Backstreet Boys and also fear what their reach would have been with today’s technology.) Similarly, clips of talk show hosts making ridiculous Beatles comparisons and fans calling the group “heroes” and “perfect” could easily be read as an unintentional commentary on how a pop act can vault to worldwide fame in the social network age.
Based on his track record, the typically subversive Spurlock (Super Size Me; The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) has a potentially electric topic handed to him. He’d probably go for it, too, if Cowell wasn’t looming over him and his wrists weren’t shackled to several large suitcases of money. Alas, they are, so stay the course he does with copious shots of his subjects sleeping or monkeying around behind the scenes, often with their shirts off. Not even a cameo by Martin Scorsese helps all that much. Dropping by before the Madison Square Garden show with his daughter, the director claims to like their music, a statement that feels as phony as the rest of the experience and, in a rare flash of brutal honesty, not even the pop stars themselves buy.
Rated PG for mild language.
One Direction: This Is Us is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.