film review: One Direction: This Is Us (2013)August 27, 2013 // 1 Comment
It’s finally here. The One Direction documentary… One Direction: This Is Us.
Oscar-nominated director Morgan Spurlock joins the lengthening line of directors in recent years tasked with creating a music documentary out of a tour. It’s not even the first one this year. Bringing in a talent like Spurlock may have seemed like a good idea… but as I mentioned in my review of The Stone Roses: Made of Stone, it’s a big ask.
The crux of the problem is, the best music documentaries are the warts and all type, but the only guaranteed audience you have for music docs like this are the fans. And let’s face it, the fans aren’t that interested in the warts. Particularly not the One Direction fans. To make it doubly difficult for Spurlock, One Direction have only been around 3 years, so it’s not as though there’s much of back story to delve into. The eldest member of the band is only 21. They’ve hardly lived a life to make a documentary about!
Which means what we end up here is… pretty much what you’d expect.
Or, to be perfectly honest, even less that you’d expect.
Despite his pedigree, and like Shane Meadows before him, what we’re left with is a film for fans. Except that, unlike Meadows and The Stone Roses, Morgan Spurlock doesn’t seem to be a fan. The Stone Roses: Made of Stone worked, on a certain level, because it was for the fans, by a fan. There’s no such love of this band coming through here.
If anything, Spurlock creates a distance from the fans. One of the strengths of The Stone Roses doc was that we met some fans, we found out a little about what The Stone Roses meant for them. I really wanted to know if they dude ever got a ticket into the Parr Hall gig. Here, the faces of the thousands and thousands of Directioners who turn up to see them everywhere are reduced to sea of faces, a instrument for the boys to play as they gambol and joke their way through 130 odd gigs across the globe. The only fans we meet have a second or two to say “OMG, We ♥ 1D” and we’re away again.
Worse than that, we hardly see any of the work behind keeping this behemoth alive. Not one rehearsal, not one press conference, not a minute spent actually recording. We get snatches here and there but only to show us how much “fun” they’re having. Say what you will about the boys of One Direction, but I’m sure they didn’t get to where they are by messing around all day long. I imagine they put in hours and hours of rehearsal for that tour, I imagine that they probably put in hours every week. I have to imagine because Morgan Spurlock sure hasn’t shown us.
Taken a face value, this film makes it look like Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson are floating from city to city letting the good times roll. Everything is fun, effortless and they are the luckiest people on earth. This is the dream. Simon Cowell plucked 5 boys from obscurity and gave them a golden ticket.
The reality I’m sure is a little different.
The strangest part of the film is when we meet the parents. It turns out, it’s not all a lark for the families.
When the boys get a couple of days off they go home and one sister (I think) explains that this is only the 5th day he’s been home since he left. One weeping mother tells us, “One day, three years ago, he went to an audition and he never came back”. A father shakes his head saying that his son has seen more than he ever could and there’s nothing left he can teach him, he’s missed his childhood. It’s genuinely heartbreaking…
… So I’m not sure why they put it in at all, it doesn’t fit.
Here and there as well, we get little glimpses into what the boys really think. One of them hates the descriptor “He’s famous”, it’s not like “he’s a nice guy”, he’s just “famous”. But they’re few and far between. It’s as though they didn’t trust the fans to accept that there’s good and bad things about being in One Direction. They certainly don’t seem to trust the fans to accept that the boys have might have friends… or *gasp* girlfriends. Or indeed meet any women at all aside from their stylists.
I honestly think they’ve done the fans a disservice here. This could have given the fans more, a recap of their beginnings, a look behind the curtains, it could have shown a little more personality and a lot more heart. I’m not saying we needed to see warts, but we could have seen… something. Anything. We didn’t even see the kitchen on their tour bus. They don’t even replay more than a second or two of X Factor footage. Instead One Direction: This Is Us is an opportunity missed for everyone, it’s glossy and shallow and the only really good thing about it is how it looks.
It looks fantastic by the way. They do some really nice 3D stuff with the concerts which I haven’t seen before. So kudos for that.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that One Direction fans don’t see it. I’d just temper expectations. If all you want is to see the boys on a giant screen, then ok. Job done. But if you wanted to know a little bit more about who they are or what life is like for them, you’ll get as much out of this as you would from the 60 second Behind The Scenes videos they put up on YouTube.
For what it’s worth, I’m not a One Direction fan by any stretch. I do watch The X Factor from time to time and I remember them from live shows, and maybe even the auditions. They mostly seem like nice guys. Zayn and Niall in particular seem pretty talented.
Just please don’t make me listen to their music.