Director Morgan Spurlock has made a career out of exposé-style documentaries that uncover the seedier side of seemingly mundane things. An excellent example is his debut film, “Super Size Me,” where he showed exactly what happens when an average person consumes way too much McDonald’s food. Making a film about an international boy-band phenomenon would seem to be way out of his usual comfort zone, but Spurlock proves equal to the task in “One Direction: This Is Us.”
Spurlock gets unfettered access to band members Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Liam Payne, and Zayn Malik, both while they are performing and behind the scenes. In most concert documentaries such as this, it is the footage that shows the band or musician dealing with everyday life that is the most intriguing to watch. In this film, the concert footage is actually just as interesting, in large part because of the way Spurlock uses his camera to make the viewers feel as if they were actually there at the concert. He also uses 3D technology, which is not only a first for Spurlock, but a first for this type of documentary. Though some critics have dismissed the use of 3D in films as a ploy, it is actually used to great effect in this movie. Audience members will quite literally feel as if they could reach out and touch the band members as they sing and dance in unison.
Only the concert footage is in 3D, with the rest of the film centering on life for each of the members away from performing. There are some real, slice-of-life moments collected for the film, including one band member’s unveiling infographiczon of a new home that he bought for his mother. The teary-eyed mom might just make the audience members a little bit misty too. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a different band member buys a house for himself and frets over the best way to decorate and furnish the house, especially since he will hardly ever be home to enjoy it.
In fact, it almost seems like a miracle that the band was ever able to enjoy a moment of silence at home. The film follows them on an international tour that had a grueling schedule and pace. In just a few months, the boys traveled across five continents and a seemingly innumerable amount of countries. Spurlock uses one of his trademark infographics to show just how much of the globe the band will traverse before the tour is over. In a nod to the mostly female fan base of the band, the infographic turns into the band’s “1D” nickname.
Despite the breakneck pace of the tour, the boys never complain and always seem happy to sign an autograph or pose for a picture with an adoring fan, even when they are obviously exhausted. They also work tirelessly on their choreography, spending hours perfecting their moves for the show. They may have been overnight sensations, but they have to continuously work hard in order to stay on top of an increasingly competitive heap.
There are some moments in the documentary that look a lot like archival footage of the mania seen in the heyday of the Beatles. Legions of adoring fans screaming and occasionally crying are shown as the seemingly normal lads soak it all in. A single wave or wink from any one of the boys is enough to send some of these young teen girls into a tizzy. This footage seems to be Spurlock’s way of showing just how big this group has become all across the world.
One doesn’t have to already be a fan of One Direction in order to enjoy the film. The opening scenes give a recap of the group’s meteoric rise to the top, beginning with the fact that all of them auditioned separately for “The X-Factor,” a talent show starring notoriously prickly judge Simon Cowell. In fact, Cowell is interviewed and takes credit for putting the boys together to form the future superstar group, which is signed to his record label. This provides a nice refresher course for parents bringing their kids to the film or novice fans who don’t know the band’s history.
“One Direction: This Is Us” is a nice look into the making of a musical juggernaut that peels back a few layers to show the story behind the performances. Director Spurlock does a thorough job recording all of the work and effort behind the scenes without forgetting to embrace the target audience, some of whom will surely swoon like the adoring fans in the film.