Cast: Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
The biggest problem inherent in making a One Direction documentary is that none of them have been alive all that long, really. At 21, Louis Tomlinson is the eldest, and how many truly insightful stories does a 21-year-old have to tell?
Granted, much has happened in One Direction's meteoric rise to fame since the seventh series of The X Factor in 2010. But the fact still stands that this entire documentary spans what would be the fifteen minute "early life" segment of any other artist's onscreen story. Heck, even 28-year-old Katy Perry has lived veritable eons compared to these fresh-faced young lads (And don't even get me started on Katy Perry: Part of Me, which I can say with no guilt is my favorite documentary film).
Suffice it to say, One Direction: This Is Us just couldn't have had enough to say to justify a 92 minute feature, and really it doesn't. It's just a corporate product shoved out by Syco Entertainment in an attempt to ride the tidal wave that is 1D's success before it evaporates into thin air.
I am being relentlessly bitter here because I can afford it. You see, One Direction: This Is Us has a few tricks up its sleeve. First and foremost is director Morgan Spurlock who, despite his films' spurious claims having recently come under fire, is a darn good documentarian, perhaps the first veteran doc filmmaker to tackle a project of This Is Us's bubblegum magnitude.
With a strong hand at the wheel and the boys' charming personalities at the forefront, it might not have a lot to tell, but the manner in which it is told is flashy, precise, and a lot of fun.
Shirtless boys provide a valuable thematic arc throughout.
The beginning of the film is, by no coincidence, the first song of their 2013 concert tour and right off the bat This Is Us proves itself as a work of cinema. Summertime popcorn cinema, yes, but there is a lot of talent behind (and in front of) the camera. Crisply shot and thrillingly edited, the opening sequence pairs modern quick cuts and flashy cutaways with a more traditional sense of introducing characters and location (let us never forget that documentaries and fiction are very similar in the way they tell stories).
Concert footage thankfully doesn't dominate and the songs get room to breathe as we delve into the history and interactions of these five boys. Their interrelationship is at the forefront as it should be, and it is not hard to see that there's a lot of love and attention that goes into keeping One Direction what it is - a purely enjoyable experience no matter how you slice it.
Or pants it.
And for once in a concert doc, the 3D is put to good use. While the staging of a One Direction concert is fairly simple (empty stage, big ol' screens behind them), the material displayed onscreen during the performance is laid over and intercut with the live footage in a way that makes the performances immensely tactile and aesthetically pleasing. These creative twists elevate the movie from simply repeating a live show, a trap which their previous DVD venture Up All Night: The Live Tour enthusiastically fell into.
There were less shirtless boys in that one.
Now if you'll allow me to indulge myself for a couple of paragraphs, I'd like to discuss the nature of One Direction's appeal. They've oft been criticized for being just another dumb boy band that girls wet themselves over and love them though I do, this isn't exactly far from the truth (It's a mark of my professionalism that I don't jump into the ring and defend their singing abilities, which are showcased to great effect in This Is Us).
What rubs me the wrong way is that these girls are criticized just as much for loving the band the way they do. Many reviews reduce them to shrieking harpies paralyzed by their hormones or the first signs of the apocalypse from the dumbed down "Me Generation." This could not be further from the truth. Yeah, maybe the ten-year-old girls with smeared mascara and "You Are My Heroes" posters are overreacting.
But let me ask you a question.
When was the last time you were so ecstatically happy that you cried? Or danced without fearing that other people will see you? Have you ever been happy enough to scream at the top of your lungs?
I know I haven't (well, maybe not the dancing part). That's just a sad truth of growing up. For a limited time only, these young girls have access to emotions the likes of which most of us have never seen. They experience happiness so pure and positive that it colors their entire experience on this Earth. We shouldn't judge them for loving a dumb boy band. We should be jealous.
I would give every last cent I had just to be as happy as one of those girls for twelve seconds.
Who are we to say the reason they feel this way is invalid?
Happiness is happiness is happiness is happiness and there's not enough of that in the world as it is, so let it be.
For some extra fun, check out the KidsInMind review of the film. They're a "parental review" web site that makes sure your precious children don't see such violent things as "five teen boys cry[ing]" or filthy smut like a girl whose "T-shirt rises up partially to reveal her navel."
TL;DR: One Direction: This Is Us is a piece of cotton candy fluff, but it features beautiful editing and is packed with buoyant energy.
Should I Spend Money On This? Only if you're a One Direction fan, but if you aren't, you're probably not reading this anyway.
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