A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. 3 of 4 stars, but this movie is for fans only. Seriously, if you’re not a 1D fan, why are you even still reading this?
Movie review: ‘One Direction: This Is Us’
The wildly successful British boy band gives voracious fans another reason to squeal excitedly with the slick concert documentary “One Direction: This Is Us.”
Powered by the intense devotion only packs of prepubescent girls can achieve, new boy band and teen idol phenomena whirl across the globe every generation. If you’re part of tribe of fandom, the thrills are potent and undeniable; if you’re not, well, all you can do is ride it out or get out of the way until it blows over.
In recent years, your basic pop-star precautions include rushing to, or avoiding, movie theaters for a couple of late-summer weekends while the inevitable concert documentary rumbles through.
Like the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry before them, wildly successful British boy band One Direction gives voracious fans another reason to squeal excitedly with the slick concert documentary “One Direction: This Is Us.”
Unlike “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” last year’s relentlessly boring installment in this firmly established trend, “This Is Us” is packed with nonstop energy and cheeky good fun, courtesy its likeable young leads: Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson.
“Super Size Me” documentarian Morgan Spurlock directs the proceedings with stylish flair, but he’s not interested in stirring up controversy with his “docbuster.” “This Is Us” features the expected concert clips, backstage antics and behind-the-scenes interviews, but unlike Perry’s filmmaking team, Spurlock skips the “Behind the Music”-style delving into back stories and personal dramas already hashed out in the tabloids (which means any mention of Harry’s famous ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift has been carefully excised, to my great personal relief).
“This Is Us” isn’t designed as an expose — the 1D guys are all between the tender of ages of 19 and 21, so there’s not much back story to be had here — it’s meant to give the fans what they want (the tween and teenage girls at a recent Oklahoma City screening screamed the entire 92 minutes like they were at a concert) and build on the mighty One Direction brand (Spurlock is a master cinematic salesman, although he doesn’t actually appear onscreen this time).
Spurlock does explore what makes “The X Factor” contenders so darn popular, and he comes to the conclusion that the 1D guys are just ordinary, affable blokes who sing well but dance horribly, maintain their blue-collar work ethic and spike their clean-cut image with just enough shirtless-and-tattooed rebel edge to make them extra appealing to their adolescent fan base.
Naturally, the film traces the band’s reality TV origins: After they failed to advance as solo artists on the 2010 installment of Britain’s “The X Factor,” canny talent scout Simon Cowell decided to put them together as a boy band and let them continue as a group. Although they finished third, they immediately emerged as superstars both in their homeland and around the world, with their fans’ unrelenting passion and social media savvy paving the way.
With their goofy charisma and surprising levelheadedness, the 1D band members easily carry the film as it follows them around the world, wrapping with an enormous Mexico City stadium gig that just happened in June and the announcement that they will embark on another global trek in 2014. They come across as the regular guys they claim to be, five fellows who like to mess about, are grateful for their family and fans and can’t quite believe that they get to be famous and travel the world.
Since they can’t really go outside like normal lads — the boys try sightseeing in Amsterdam, and thanks to Twitter, a mob of hundreds gathers with stunning speed, trapping them in a shoe shop — they mostly hang out with each other and play pranks. They occasionally get to go home, and the interviews with their parents —one comments that the boys left two years ago to audition of “The X Factor” and basically never returned — are surprisingly touching.
Naturally, the group sings its hits like “What Makes You Beautiful,” “Little Things” and “Best Song Ever,” and Spurlock occasionally adds some extra visual zip to their usual concert spectacle, transforming the singers into superheroes or augmenting the “Space Invaders”-inspired graphics. effectively boosting the 3-D appeal.
Obviously, those who hate group’s music should avoid “This Is Us” at all costs, but for all the ill-advised comparisons to the Beatles, the 1D lads come across as refreshingly self-aware. When Louis hopes their fans will one day remember the group fondly to their daughters as normal guys who had fun but were terrible dancers, I couldn’t help but like One Direction, even if I changed the channel the next time “Best Song Ever” came on my car radio.