News Column

Movie review: 'One Direction: This Is Us' spotlights a down-to-Earth global phenomenon

August 29, 2013


Aug. 29--Teen and 'tween One Direction fans likely will deem the 3-D concert movie "One Direction: This Is Us" the #bestmovieever. For parents who must accompany them to the film, there's good news as well: It's far from the worst movie ever, and it lasts only 95 minutes.

The movie's shiny concert footage highlights the relaxed stage presences and vocal prowess of One Direction members Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik and Harry Styles. Behind-the-scenes footage tracks the "Best Song Ever" singers' rise from British "X Factor" rejects to global sensations.

But don't expect scandals or any scoop about whom the band members are dating. This project, despite being directed by "Super Size Me" muckraker Morgan Spurlock, is so commercial it moves from adjective to noun. It's one long commercial for One Direction, presenting the band members as workhorses who think only of singing, fans and family.

The One Direction singers auditioned as solo artists for "X Factor" in 2010, but none made it past the competition's initial stages. Instead of sending them home, "X Factor" honcho Simon Cowell put them together to compete as a group.

They finished third. But One Direction, or 1D, had won loyal fans who promoted the group through social media. Rather than losing momentum, the band gained it, post show. "This Is Us" tracks One Direction's path to initial stardom through archival footage before heading out with 1D on 2013 tour stops that include London, Japan, Mexico, and multilingual fan freakouts.

"This Is Us" plays up the idea of 1D as an unlikely success story, given its members' loser history and inability to dance. You can see why Spurlock latches on to this narrative: You can take the boy out of socially conscious documentaries but you cannot take away his interest in rooting for an underdog.

But presenting these five exceedingly telegenic boys as surprise stars is disingenuous. They met trying out for a path-to-stardom TV show; it's not like Cowell discovered them singing in church. And once he brought them together, Cowell (a "This Is Us" producer) put his considerable promotional power behind the group.

One Direction does seem less manufactured than most boy bands, and the members' images less synthetic than those of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, subjects of their own recent 3-D movie promotional treatments. It's a low bar, granted, but the 1D members' modesty and graciousness keep this movie watchable, even for grown-ups. They come across as likable, good-humored young men who marvel at the attention paid them but do not let it influence their opinions of themselves.

The band members come from caring families, as we see in interviews with the working-class British parents who sent their sons off to pursue stardom three years ago and have not seen them much since. Payne's mom even keeps a cardboard cutout of her son in his childhood room to keep from missing him too much.

The 1D kids maintain a down-to-earth quality even while on stage. Spurlock uses 3-D to add texture but not a lot of dazzle --appropriate for a boy band that takes pride in not dancing in unison or wearing silly outfits. The five all look fully at ease, as if just hanging out together rather than performing before thousands of screaming girls.

The band members enliven their catchy but bland songs with their charm, magnetism and terrific voices. All five sound good live. (Or at least live and on film).

Styles offers the most distinctive vocals, lending 1D's songs some much-needed grit. He's also (just 1 opinion, girls) the most charismatic band member. If 1D yields a Justin Timberlake-style breakout solo star, it will be Styles. But the other 1D members impress enough that it's hard to imagine them someday being squeezed into a one-minute slot in a Styles solo turn on an awards show.



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