Sometimes, I look back upon the Great Boy Band Scourge of the 1990s and wonder who the real enemy was. I’d been known to make an “NSTINK” crack here and a “Backstreet Girls” joke there (I was a clever kid, wasn’t I?), but it wasn’t the performers themselves that I had anything against. It was the vapidity of their music that was the fly to my ointment, the lovey-dovey pop pandering into which any screaming teenager could insert themselves and fulfill the singer’s generic criteria of “the one.” But the sooner you realize what little harm boy bands cause and how they’re never going to go away, the sooner you can tune them out, conserve the breath you would’ve wasted on blasting them, and not even register the new acts that show up. Lord knows I couldn’t have cared less when the chart-topping One Direction hit the scene, though I can attest that their new concert documentary, This Is Us, has so few interesting things to say about the group, it botches something as simple as making sure you know its members’ names when it’s all over.
Few stiffs are as lucky as the boys of One Direction. As fresh-faced lads, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, and Louis Tomlinson all auditioned as contestants on the UK’s version of “The X Factor” on their own. But just when it seemed like all five would be getting the axe, none other than Simon Cowell pulled them aside, put them in the same group together, and formed the stuff that Teen Vogue covers are made of. Thanks to social media, the new troupe — christened “One Direction” — skyrocketed to superstardom before it ever cut an album, with romantic anthems like “One Thing” and “What Makes You Beautiful” causing hormonally-challenged fans to swoon by the thousands. A world tour was soon in the cards, and it’s the globe-trotting hijinks that ensue that form the bulk of this film, showing the five braving long days with huge work loads to the wild throngs of “Directioners” that gobsmack them on every stop.
As with the Katy Perry and Justin Bieber puff pieces that graced multiplexes in recent years, One Direction: This Is Us is abject propaganda. Its purpose isn’t to delve into the band’s inner workings or discuss the inspiration behind their craft; it’s designed to sell them to you, to intercut performances of their biggest hits with footage of the boys acting goofy and proving how down to earth they are (yet still worthy of being given all your money). In that respect, One Direction has a leg up on Bieber, in that each member we follow at least seems like a decent enough guy, as opposed to an awful, awful human being ordering us to like him. But unless you’re the type of fan who saw the movie opening night, twice more the next weekend, and pre-ordered the DVD immediately, it goes without saying that This Is Us will leave you with no greater impression of One Direction than what you had going in. As someone who associates their music with the indiscernible white noise that echoes through Walmarts on a regular basis, the bare minimum I could’ve hoped for is some compelling aspect of these guys’ lives to be highlighted, which this glorified infomercial is too sanitized to bother including.
One Direction: This Is Us is the worst movie of its kind since the Jonas Brothers tried bilking our nation’s middle-schoolers out of more pennies than they were worth. There’s a story to be told here, one about five kids who got an incredibly lucky break and were thrust into the spotlight before they knew what hit them, but that’s not what director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) seems terribly concerned with. This thing is an hour and a half of painfully obvious spin, featuring one PR goon after the other singing the band’s praises and the boys themselves never shutting up about how nuts those gosh darn fans are. This Is Us never lets up on its pitch for a second, to a point that you’re unable to tell when someone’s having a sincere conversation and when they’re reading from a script crafted to further entrench them in the hearts of teeny-boppers all over the world. It goes beyond just not being into their songs, although the fact that every single one of them sounds almost exactly the same certainly doesn’t help. Simon Cowell can boast about the group’s popularity until he’s blue, and Spurlock can edit in as many Beatles name-droppings as he can, but not once does the flick provide a convincing argument as to why these dudes are interesting enough to warrant a feature film.
Like the band it depicts, One Direction: This Is Us will be largely forgotten in a few years. It’s marketing of the most shameless and shallow order, unable to give us a memorable tune or one single scene that doesn’t feel rehearsed, scripted, and approved by a dozen record executives. I’m sure that Harry, Sonny, Ringo, Chief, and McCloud are nice fellas, but One Direction: This Is Us feels so phony, you’ll swear you see the reflection of a paycheck each time the guys flash their pearly whites.