One Direction: This is Us (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
Having failed to be selected to compete as solo artists in The X Factor, Simon Cowell had a brilliant idea of putting together Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson, and Liam Payne in a boy band. Although One Direction did not win the competition, the exposure and the fans helped them reach international superstardom, breaking numerous records that not even The Beatles managed to attain so early in their careers.
“One Direction: This is Us,” directed by Morgan Spurlock, will not win over people who are already convinced that the band members do have much talent. The documentary is strictly for fans: just about every detail is polished, most emotions put on screen reflect either excitement or happiness, and some of the guys are shown shirtless backstage. However, there are enough quiet moments that hint that these guys have substance. I wished that Spurlock had been more willing to push the envelope, to ask interesting or pointed questions, to underline what fame entails—aside from screaming girls—and allow the band members to express, in a meaningful way, what they really think about the possible fleeting thing they have in their hands. It is a missed opportunity because with such a solid documentary like “Super Size Me” under his belt, it is clear that Spurlock decided to hold back.
We see a lot of shots of the guys messing around, but I wanted to know if they ever fight or get annoyed with one another behind the scenes. Early in the picture, there is discussion about them having distinct personalities and their need to stand out from one another. If so, is there a level of competition among them at times? In addition, since they were essentially strangers when Cowell decided to put them together, surely there must have been some problems—big and small—that came up. Notice how the film quickly glosses over these questions.
It is worth showing the subjects being in a bad mood once in a while. Their grueling schedule is no joke. Are we supposed to believe that they have the energy to jump around, mess about, and pull pranks in just about every place they visit? Styles acknowledged that sometimes he does not feel up to the job he is being paid to perform. Instead of directing that statement to the camera, wouldn’t it be more interesting if he was shown being over the whole thing? No, it would not have made him look ungrateful—it would have made him more human, more relatable. When the pressure gets to be too much, we all have moments of weakness, frustrations, and perhaps even anger.
The best segment of the film involves following the fab five to their respective hometowns. Having them revisit their homes and see their families—after being away for two and a half years—touched me. I also enjoyed it when Tomlinson visited Toys R Us, where he used to work, and seeing his face on one of the lunch boxes. It is amusing and surreal at the same time. Styles is also shown visiting his place of former employment, a bakery, and hanging out with older ladies who adore him. (One of the women reminded the camera that she used to pinch his bum.)
Did the movie make me smile? Absolutely. Did I enjoy the music? Kind of. I prefer the studio version of the songs. (I listened to their albums about two to three weeks in advance as preparation.) The concerts shown are not that fun—they do not seem disciplined or wild enough—but I think that is because it is not targeted for my age group. Still, the biggest limitation is not showing the more serious side of the business.
How refreshing would it have been if one of the guys admitted directly to camera that he is fully aware he is a product and part of his job is to constantly sell an image? I think that would have given the picture a bit of an edge and it would have provided one reason why the documentary must adhere to being squeaky clean.