Even if you aren’t a parent of a tween girl, more likely than not you’ve heard of the most recent boy band phenomenon One Direction, 1D for short.
Like The Jonas Brothers, N’Sync, The Backstreet Boys, and New Kids on the Block before them, this quintet of oh-so-cute English and Irish lads ranging in age from 19 to 21 is the latest juggernaut responsible for the sexual awakening of teens throughout the world.
It was only a matter of time until One Direction got their very own 3D concert-documentary, something that seems to be the trend lately (Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and the Jonas Brothers also each had one). This Is Us, directed by Morgan Spurlock (yup, the Super Size Me guy), gives their enthusiastic fans and less enthusiastic parents an intimate look into their day-to-day lives on-stage and off while on their 130 date world tour.
Our introduction to Harry, Louis, Zayn, Niall, and Liam plays out like the first half of a VH1 Behind The Music episode (you know, before the bad stuff happens), documenting the boys’ rise from X Factor losers to the multimillion dollar product of marketing (but not birth-control) genius Simon Cowell. Cowell, shown in interviews and old footage, comes off like a slightly less-creepy Lou Pearlman and pretty much takes full credit for the groups’ success. Though he is responsible for putting them together, recognition must also be, and is, given to 1D’s rabid fanbase who through social media propelled the boys to the force they are today. And boy, do we see a lot of these screaming, singing, crying, fans.
And that’s just in the theater before the movie begins!
I admittedly went into this movie prepared for a six-pack, but aside from the many shots of chiseled torsos, that never turned out to be the case.
Not knowing this group from anything other than a couple of their inescapable songs and the fact that one of them was stupid enough to get involved with Taylor Swift, I was shocked at how likeable and grounded I ended up finding them.
In my tween days—the dark ages long before the internet when we would actually go to a store to purchase music—boy bands had a very specific formula. There were always five members and each one had a role. There was the heartthrob, the sensitive one, the bad boy (he was the one with the tattoo/s), the funny one, and the one that wasn’t as good-looking as the rest but they needed a fifth boy.
Boy bands always wore similar outfits and performed synchronized choreography.
Though One Direction does have five members and the most charismatic, Harry Styles, has emerged as “the heartthrob,” they don’t fit into the traditional mold. They all have tattoos, they’re all pretty funny, and they refuse to dance or wear matching outfits. They’re sort of an anti-boy band boy band or “cool boy band” as they prefer to call themselves.
I was also happy to learn that they can actually sing, and sing live without auto-tune or backing tracks. One of them even plays a guitar occasionally.
While many of their adoring young fans interviewed describe them as “perfect,” the 1D boys are quick to self-deprecatingly point out that they are anything but. They often joke about what terrible dancers they are and appear sincerely amused and astonished at the spectacle the mere sight of them causes. There are no ego trips, no bratty demands, just five friends who can’t seem to believe their luck.
At one point the guys sit around a campfire discussing their success and the fleetingness of fame. It’s here where they won me over. They get it. They are fully aware that they won’t be on top forever and intend to just enjoy the ride while it lasts. That surprisingly mature viewpoint and the group’s overall lack of delusion is refreshing in contrast to Justin Bieber pissing in restaurant mopbuckets and various other spoiled brat antics he’s so known for lately. Unlike the Biebers and Chris Browns of the world, these guys don’t think that their shit doesn’t stink. In fact, they point out when it does. Well, in fart form anyway.
“It was ME!!”
What I’m saying is, it’s damn hard not to like these guys. They genuinely seem to enjoy what they do and it’s infectious. They don’t take themselves seriously and goof around whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I know what you’re thinking… Yup, I freaking fell for it. And yeah, it seems as though the main goal of this film was to convert the “haters” and parents to into fans and Spurlock accomplished that. So I must raise a glass to that.
The film is only 92 minutes long, though at times it feels a lot longer because it gets pretty repetitive once the narrative shifts from the history of their rise to fame to concert scene/backstage scene/concert scene/backstage scene. I’m sure their fans won’t complain about this though.
I’m sure they won’t complain about this either.
If you’re hoping to find out anything other than the fact that they guys like to play pranks and take their shirts off a lot, well, there isn’t much more. No down and dirty stuff here. Despite their own claims of the group being “edgy,” the film always and only presents them as harmless, sexless, family-oriented, hard-working good guys that do it all for the fans. There is no conflict between any of the members, no cursing, no drinking (at one point the guys do sit at what appears to be a bar in Japan with Harajuku girls shaking some sort of likely alcoholic beverage but the film cuts to the next scene before any indulging commences), and no backstage females, well other than their moms. The boys are shown spending their free time doing wholesome stuff like going fishing, doing charity work, and one even buys his mother a house.
It’s not surprising the guys are portrayed as squeaky-clean given that Simon Cowell and his production company is behind the movie. It’s carefully manufactured to present the band in the best light possible to ensure their fans continue plunking down the dollars/Euros/yen on concert tickets, t-shirts, and lunchboxes and to keep those young girls’ fantasies alive that One Direction are singing to each and every one of them, specifically.
Spurlock is there only to capture it all without a hint of cynicism or opinion. Nor is there any attempt to dissect the reasons behind the mass-hysteria except for a quick visit from a neurologist who explains the dopamine-flooded brain of teen girls means they are simply excited, not crazy.
Though I’m not so sure about the second one from the right.
To be fair, it was never implied that the intent of this film was to be anything other than a prettily packaged love letter to Directioners (as the fans like to refer to themselves) but that still leaves me puzzled as to why Spurlock signed on to such a fluff piece given his previous work.
Despite the group as a whole coming off immensely charming, us non-fanatics never learn enough about the boys individually to distinguish one from another. After sitting through an hour and a half, I’m personally still only able to correctly identify Harry and maybe Liam.
Nope, I lied. I don’t know which one is Liam.
For a documentary about a musical group, there isn’t much focus on the music itself. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of concert scenes (very well-filmed at that) and we get a small glimpse of a couple members laying down their vocal tracks (shirtless of course). But it would have been interesting to learn about the guys’ personal tastes and influences and how involved, if at all, they are in the songwriting process.
It’s noted that the band’s sound is different from many past similar groups in that their pop is more rock-based than R&B. Throughout the film they’re seen wearing t-shirts of classic rock artists like The Rolling Stones (by Harry, who coincidentally resembles a young Mick Jagger), The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix. They even cover a Blondie song and the beginning of their latest hit “Best Song Ever” sounds a little too close to the The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” to be a complete fluke (for more on that). This was interesting to me, but it’s never elaborated on. This leads me to suspect that the guys don’t have as much input into the songs they perform as Simon Cowell does. And let’s be honest, the music is secondary. The only thing that really matters is that it’s catchy background filler to the cute guys on stage.
This film obviously has an intended audience so if you aren’t a 10-14 girl or a parent of one, it’s not likely that you’d even consider seeing it. However, if you find yourself in the situation that you may (probably at the losing end of a bet), it’s not the worst thing you could see in the theater this week (from what I’ve heard, that honor goes to Getaway) and you’ll probably even come out of the experience liking or at least tolerating One Direction more than you did before. And that is clearly the purpose of this cash-grab p
ropaganda piece, which it achieves. If I had a tween daughter, I’d much rather she be a Directioner than a Belieber.
Note: I didn’t see the 3D version, but I’d imagine it would be fun to see the floating graphics, lyrics, and Harry’s amazing hair popping out of the screen.
Take a Drink: whenever one of the members is shown shirtless. Take two for bottomless.
Take a Drink: whenever anyone mentions Twitter.
Take a Drink: every time a fan makes a heart with her hands.
Take a Drink: whenever the members “conduct” the droves of screaming fans making them go silent, then cheer loudly.
Take a Drink: whenever a member of 1D mentions how normal they really are.
Take Another: if you actually believe them. (You will.)
Take a Drink: every time any of the members dress up in a disguise.
Take a Drink: when that one guy plays the guitar.
Take a Drink: whenever Harry wears a hat.
Do a Shot: for every male you spot in the audience. Do two for Martin Scorsese. Seriously.
Last Call: Of course they are more wacky shenanigans over the closing credits!