One Direction: This is Us

This is Us_

The final part of a six-part examination on recent documentaries, which was indeed finished by the end of the month!


by Ken B.

First, let me state my opinion on the band itself, as to avoid any misunderstandings. It seems like the standard stance for males from their teens to early twenties to immediately, entirely, and irreversibly dismiss anything whose target audience is tween girls. Despite sliding into such an age group, I don’t hate One Direction. I don’t like them either, but I consider them to be a regular, generic, and decent pop group with some catchy (and overtly basic) songs. I don’t hold a cynical grudge against the band, but I certainly could think of better things to do than listen to a whole album. Now that that’s cleared up, and you know where I’m coming from, let’s start the review:

Here is a kangaroo court of a documentary overseen by a Supreme Court justice. The judge is Morgan Spurlock, and the documentary is One Direction: This is Us. The film follows the ridiculously popular British boy band, from their roots as a money making venture foreseen by Simon Cowell after each was individually rejected from the TV show The X Factor, to their millions of Twitter followers before an album was released, to their worldwide tour, for which the concert footage in the film is generated.

Earlier this month, I saw Morgan Spurlock viciously expose the already painfully existent world of advertising and product placement in his third feature film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It is a biting and brilliant look, even though short and sometimes unfulfilling. This is Us gives no one any information of real value. A puff piece, pure and simple, it’s not particularly surprising to learn that Spurlock didn’t have final cut privilege over the final product, with such an honor left in the hands of the band’s management team and publicity drones. Perhaps this was first evident by the viewer’s (and the film’s) immediate impressions of Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn Malik – These are nice guys. Talented, funny, polished, spotless.

Maybe too spotless. Any real feeling or especially eye-opening points are mainly missing from this documentary that feels as processed as Kraft “cheese”. The PR machine was hard at work preparing the 92 minutes released to theatres (a fourteen minute longer extended cut exists, but one may safely predict that it is more of the same). There are occasional moments of seeming realism or spontaneity – the band being cornered into a Nike store in Amsterdam by hordes of fans that conjures up images of many a zombie scene from a TV show, movie, or video game, and a sequence where the guys ponder where they would be if they weren’t One Direction, but times where the members of the band seem real and the fans anything less than non-intrusively adoring are rare. Snip, snip, says the publicist in the editing bay.

Much as there are occasional moments of realism, there are fleeting moments of actual entertainment for the non-devoted. These are mostly restricted to souped up concert scenes. From comic-ized sequences to obvious effects made for the 3D release, the quirkiness seems to feel like Spurlock must have something to do with it, as his personality and editing style in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold would suggest. Another event that provided personal legitimate enjoyment and a chuckle seems to exist purely for the people that were dragged along with small children to multiplexes playing the film; it sees Martin Scorsese with his granddaughter meeting the band members.

One Direction: This is Us is an inoffensive look at its namesake pop group. Like all bands that achieve global popularity, you wonder when their decline in fame will arise, how jolting or well handled it will be, and if there will be one that will continue a streak of fame even following (à la Justin Timberlake). It leaves little impression and is rather boring to the non-fan, so its status as well meaning propaganda for a sector of the world leaves it comfortable in the presence similar movies made for the likes of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (by the way, Spurlock was considered to direct films for those two, as well).

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This is Us