“One Direction: This Is Us” has as much to do with star-maker Simon Cowell — the “American Idol” judge and creator of the “X-Factor” TV show — as it does with the band it purports to document.
Cowell appears briefly several times, especially during a short primer that chronicles the 2010 “X-Factor” auditions of One Direction’s future band members, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. Each of the five members recalls getting the boot as an individual teen contestant, only to learn that Cowell wanted to form them into a boy band called One Direction. That band was allowed to compete on the show and placed third, but “1D,” as it’s affectionately known, garnered legions of young fans during its many appearances.
Directing what amounts to a promotional piece as opposed to a documentary, Morgan Spurlock, the man behind “Supersize Me,” sells his soul to Cowell (who produced the film and remains the brains behind the operation). Apparently Cowell’s vision was to create both a promotional tool and a “1D” concert film. Therefore, the film is crafted to depict each of the five band members (ages 19 to 21) as charming, carefree and approachable. Their seeming lack of personal problems is either miraculous or is simply another one of Cowell’s omissions.
Filmed over a six-month period beginning in mid-January 2013, Spurlock tags along as the band tours Japan and Europe. The film’s lengthy, live concert footage is largely drawn from their sold-out performances at London’s O2 Arena. These concerts allow us to understand the adulation of adolescent female fans caught up in girl-candy tunes such as “What Makes You Beautiful” and “One Thing.” While One Direction blends together nicely, no member stands out as a soloist.
The guys do discuss their minor deviations from other boy bands. They eschew complex choreography, but are well-staged on the sets used in their concerts. For example, one set dangles just above the audience’s reach and forces the lads to stand side-by-side aboard a narrow, floating Plexiglass platform.
While music producers may applaud Cowell’s marketing savvy, nonfans may find this innocuous documentary unremarkable. How many times can we watch the lads appear upon or disappear from rooftops to make their fans scream in delight or listen to them fondly recount their known dislike of choreography (they claim to be poor dancers)? In what is supposed to be a soul-searching camping trip in Sweden the best the boys can manage is to wonder whether they will remain friends once their band days end. It’s slightly less fascinating than hearing someone comment on the weather.
Spurlock saves his creativity for freeze-frame shots, where he literally paints over band members to depict them as onstage superheroes.
After forming their group the guys remember spending the bulk of their time joking around and playing games rather than rehearsing. It’s well known that the documentary omits scenes of One Direction’s partying and imbibing, but a few scenes clarify that the band members are adorable, loveable pranksters.
A lack of interest in their own music would normally sink a band, but these youths are gifted with catchy hybrid pop-rock songs written by unsung heroes Carl Falk, Rami Yacoub and Savan Kotecha. It won’t do much to fatten Cowell’s wallet, but these three scribes deserve a documentary of their own.