THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US"
By now, the story of One Direction is pretty well known. Five young lads auditioned individually for Britain'sThe X Factor. None of them made it through. Then judge/producer Simon Cowell got the idea to put the castoffs together into a group for the show. They lost, but amassed an enormous (young, female) fan base along the way. The borderline obsessiveness of those fans catapulted One Direction to massive worldwide fame and millions of records sold around the globe. This backstory is told within the first ten minutes of the concert documentary One Direction: This Is Us. Given that the group hasn't been around long enough to have any other interesting career developments, the movie is left with eighty minutes to fill.
One Direction are Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson. After the recap of how they became a chart-topping group, the film proceeds to follow them on a world tour. Concert footage is interspersed with behind-the-scenes glimpses, interviews, and a couple of staged sequences designed to show the guys hanging out together.
As I recently wrote in a Film Racket piece called "The Tragic Decline of the Concert Documentary," the problem with most recent films in this genre is that they're little more than feature-length infomercials for the artists. That's especially true of This Is Us. Almost everything potentially interesting has been scrubbed clean. The point of this documentary is to make them look flawless for their fans. It feels bogus. Harry Styles and Zayn Malik, in particular, seem to have some edge to them. The former gives off a rabble-rouser vibe, while the latter has a too-cool-for-school attitude that likely masks something else. We never get to see that, though. Instead, there are lots of scenes of the guys frolicking backstage, joking around, and expressing their disbelief at how crazy this whole ride is. Even that is sanitized. Styles became the most well-known member of the group after starting a romance with Taylor Swift that put him on the front pages of every tabloid and led to all kinds of speculation after they broke up. What does that sort of scrutiny do to such a young man? We sure don't get any answers here. The most depth offered by This Is Us is that, boy, One Direction sure are popular!
The movie also makes it painfully clear that the group doesn't stand for much musically. There's simply no there there. Sure, the songs are catchy and harmless, but so what? With no apparent motivation other than to ride the wave of their massive success, the singers come off as dangerously oblivious to the probability that the end will come sooner rather than later. The fact is that being in a boy band is a risky business. History shows that they burn very brightly for a short time, before their fans' devoted claims of eternal love inevitably fade. Many former boy band members end up developing drug problems or clinging to fame though cheesy reality shows. There are few Justin Timberlakes, many Joey Fatones. It would have been interesting to hear where the members of One Direction see themselves going with their music or how they plan to evolve when their tween girl audience grows up. Actually, any sort of comment on how they see themselves as artists would have been nice.
The concert numbers are undoubtedly the best part of This Is Us. When the guys perform a cover of Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag" with a comic book-influenced backdrop, it's fun. (On-screen illustrations briefly convert them into superheroes.) So is a videogame-inspired number later on. Many of the songs are cut short, though, in favor of more scenes in which One Direction hang out of hotel room windows making the throngs of fans assembled below scream in delight.
One Direction: This Is Us was directed by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), who has admitted that he didn't have final cut. (That belonged to the band's management.) Spurlock is a smart and curious filmmaker who undoubtedly recognized the unusual position One Direction is in. Given free reign, it's likely he would have probed and prodded 1D a little more. As a hired gun, however, he was tasked with making a movie that's not really about a musical act so much as it is a celebration of fame, as though that is the most desirable thing any artist could ever aspire to. This Is Us consequently plays like what it is: an inoffensive but shallow cash-in on a temporary phenomenon.
( out of four)
One Direction: This Is Us is rated PG for mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.
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