One Direction: This is Us 3D
One Direction, the twinky British boy band, actually happened by accident. As the opening to Morgan Spurlock’s big screen documentary "One Direction: This Is Us 3D" explains, Harry, Liam, Niall, Zayn and Louis were hastily assembled after they all failed to pass solo auditions on the 2010 series of the UK’s X-Factor. Music mogul Simon Cowell (no doubt envisioning enormous dollar signs) seized the golden opportunity and ran with it.
What followed was a phenomenally successful stint on the talent show for the group. As Cowell points out, the fan response was unprecedented. And despite coming in second place (the band lost to Rebecca Ferguson... who?), One Direction’s popularity has exploded on a global scale. Since Christmas 2010, the party hasn’t stopped for the young guys -- so much so that they have only returned to their respective homes five times since the X-Factor finale. To brand it a whirlwind would be an understatement.
And this is Spurlock’s primary angle in the documentary, which is an exploration of the impact of instant fame on five young working-class boys. The film charts the dizzying highs of fame as well as the draining lows: Scenes of playing sold out concerts in venues like London’s 02 arena and New York’s Madison Square Garden are juxtaposed against tales of sleepless nights and lonely parents.
In a number of scenes, the boys’ families discuss their ambivalent feelings toward their child’s instant success -- overwhelming pride dovetailed with sadness due to their constant absence. In one touching scene, two of the guys’ moms purchase their cardboard cutouts at the New York gig, and lament the fact that this is probably the closest they’ll get to their child for a long time. Another difficult moment witnesses Liam’s father vocalizing his angst over lost time with his only son. To consolidate the bittersweet theme, Zayn is featured in a phone conversation with his mother, who is standing in the new home that he has just purchased for her. She tearfully thanks him, and he gently asks her to stop "before he cries too."
But this is the closest we get to depth and insight in a film that is, arguably, an elaborate advertisement for the band. Most of the action, superfluously emphasized in 3D, is constructed of concert scenes, backstage high jinks, and world travels. Spurlock follows the boys to a number of different nations, from Germany to Australia to Japan. In one comical scene, Niall’s culture shock is evident as he asks whether he is supposed to "drink" the Japanese soup. There is also a huge focus on portrayals of the boys’ sizeable fan-base, with one interviewee explaining how One Direction literally "changed her life."
Certainly, Spurlock emphasizes the good times, and it all feels a little too contrived. If you are anticipating leaving the theatre with a greater understanding of the members on a personal level, then think again. The documentary offers a saccharine portrayal of the group as a whole -- there is very little exploration of their individual narratives. A compelling example is the lack of any mention of their respective dating lives. For example, Harry Styles has dated celebrities like Taylor Swift, but she is notably absent.
Lack of nuance aside, this isn’t necessarily a bad film. It serves the purpose of capitalizing on the One Direction brand. Judging by the plethora of screaming girls in the movie theatre, it will undoubtedly be a hit. And I certainly wasn’t immune to the cheesy rhetoric. I left the theatre with an overwhelming urge to listen to every One Direction hit, and having possessed little prior knowledge of the band, I was now able to rank the group starting with my favorite (ok, if you insist -- Zayn, Louis, Harry, Liam and Niall) As shameless propaganda, the movie works. However, if you’re looking for anything more than that, you’ll be left wanting.