Cinema Review: One Direction: This Is Us

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DIR: Morgan Spurlock • WRI: Simon Barrett • PRO: Simon Cowell, Adam Milano, Morgan Spurlock, Ben Winston • DOP: Neil Harvey • ED: Guy Harding , Wyatt Smith, Pierre Takal • CAST:  Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, LouisTomlinson

A pop culture phenomenon comes to the big screen in 3D. One Direction, the biggest boy band of the 2010s, move in a new direction. Cinema suits their mix of good lucks, catchy tunes, comic carry-on and terrible dancing (their words, not mine). The film will please the band’s fans, but it is not to be taken seriously:  it’s actually an extended advertisement for their upcoming world tour.

This Is Us tells the story of their formation and follows Niall, Louis, Harry, Zayn and Liam on their Take Me Home Tour. The band came together during the seventh series of the British X Factor. They each made it only so far as solo acts. Simon Cowell claims to have put them together as a group. Nicole Scherzinger is on the record as making the suggestion, but the film makes no mention of this.  The film credits Cowell as a producer.

Featured performances in the film come mostly from their gigs at the O2 Arena in London earlier this year. Their rendition of “Little Things”, a song written by Ed Sheeran (with Fiona Bevan), stands out as a highlight that showcases their talent for singing. It contrasts with the rockier sound of their other songs, including “What Makes You Beautiful”, “Live While You You’re Young” and “C’mon, C’mon”. Music critics from the likes of NME appear on-screen to describe the band’s musical direction.

The film sometimes plays like episodes of X Factor, like when the boys’ parents talk about how much they miss their pop idols away on tour. Their fathers’ contributions are interesting. Niall’s dad feels his rural upbringing has left him nothing to teach his son, whose fame and success means he sees so much more of the world.  The band’s fans may appreciate such intimate insights, but, to their detractors, it will scream of the cloying sentimentality that runs through TV talent shows.

Are One Direction more than just another boy band? The nature of their accomplishments is questionable. How significant really is it that they are the first British boy band to go to number one in the USA with a debut album? Throughout the film, the band continually thank their fans and express their appreciation for making their success possible. Simon Cowell found novel the increasing numbers of fans appearing outside the TV studio during X Factor.  Some of these girls — “superfans” — took to tweeting and promoting One Direction through social media.  The film portrays their success as a response to the demands of their adoring fans and to the boys’ hard work.

The film fails to mention that Columbia Records mounted a social media marketing campaign after it signed the group, aiming to establish a fan base in the USA before releasing a single or playing it on the radio. The campaign included asking fans to sign petitions and entering video competitions to win tickets to a concert in their town.  The band’s followers on Facebook increased from 40,000 to 400,000.  One Direction’s first single, “What Makes You Beautiful”, sold more than 131,000 in its first week in the USA even though it had not been played on the radio. This Is Us appears to expose the people working in the background making One Direction’s fame and fortune:  choreographer Paul Roberts, stylist Caroline Weston, tour manager Paul Higgins. It doesn’t point to the accountants, lawyers, public relations and social media teams.

Morgan Spurlock served as the film’s director, though the only element that reflects his touch is the appearance of a neuroscientist holding a model of a brain to explain that the band’s fans are not crazy; dopamine in their brains brings on feelings of euphoria and excitement. One can’t help feeling that the boys’ offstage antics — Harry appearing in a wheelie bin, setting up camp in the Swedish woods, playing around in golf buggies and skateboarding minutes before a concert starts, or dressing up as a security guard to deceive concertgoers — are all staged. Spurlock strives to capture the boys’ undoubted spontaneity and camaraderie, emphasising that they are just “normal” lads who just want to have fun.

One Direction’s record-breaking draws comparisons with The Beatles. The Fab Four’s contribution to film, particularly in A Hard Day’s Night, captured Beatlemania and the swinging ’60s, making popular, and bringing into the mainstream, the jump cuts and techniques that Jean-Luc Godard experimented with. This Is Us serves as one long advertisement for the band’s third album and their 2014 world tour, where they hope to fill massive arenas and stadia just like they did in Mexico City, the climactic performance in the film.  Perhaps it speaks volumes about the times we live in that an advertisement like this functions as a film. This Is Us will not disappoint the band’s detractors (who will avoid it); it will please their teenybopper fans.

John Moran

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details) 

92 mins
One Direction: This Is Us is released on 29th August 2013

One Direction: This Is Us – Official Website

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