By Roger Moore
You could be forgiven for rolling your eyes last summer at the news that last summer’s flashy pre-fab pop phenomenon One Direction would be releasing a concert documentary this summer.
Forgiven by everyone save their fans, who might pout for suggesting that one summer’s boy band craze is the next summer’s old news.
But “One Direction: This is Us” still has a popularity wave to ride a full year after “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Live While We’re Young” dominated the airwaves. So stop the eye-rolling.
This film captures the five British lads hand-picked by Simon Cowell to go where NKOTB, Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync have gone before — up the charts and into arenas around the world. Caught at their peak, they come off as the clean-cut fulfillment of millions of teen and tweenage girl fantasies.
It’s not that different from the Justin Bieber doc, or the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus concert films — sanitized, packaged — presenting these five British or Irish boys, ages 19-21, as paragons of pop virtue while others vouch for what “rebels” they are, and that they have “edge.”
Yeah, they’ve got vast tattoo collections and they’re not shy about losing a shirt and yanking each other’s trousers down on stage in choreographed bits of tomfoolery. We see Harry, Liam, Louis, Zyan and Niall bonding on a tour bus across Europe, a camping trip in Sweden and the occasional stroll down a public street — until they’re recognized and mobbed.
They travel to Africa to show their charitable side. Harry Styles goes back to the Cheshire bakery where he used to work the counter to serve a few customers. And being all of 21 or so, they reminisce: “Remember when we met at Boot Camp?” That was where they were brought together, rehearsed and trained to be pop stars by Cowell & co.
Indie filmmaker sell-out Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) shows us how 1D were recruited by Cowell on Britain’s “X-Factor” talent show, how a cadre of hard-core first generation fans amped up enthusiasm for them in the U.K. before they even had a record out and how much they’ve changed their parents’ lives (buying them houses, etc.) and how much fun they have together as mates on what one describes as a “Benjamin Button” journey — peaking at 20, realizing it’s all “backward” and downhill from here, lads.
It’s a chipper, cheerful portrait with nary a discouraging word in it. And after Katy Perry’s much more revealing and dramatic “Part of Me” film, it’s disappointing that Spurlock didn’t have the access, the footage or the spine to depict any of the cynicism behind such creations, which are manufactured by pop Svengalis like Maurice Starr (New Kids on the Block, et al), Lou Pearlman (Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync) and Cowell.
The tunes are catchy, and the 1D boys have charm, a little wit about them, and some stage presence even if their shows have all the spontaneity of a McDonald’s menu.
Not that their fans want to hear that, or hear that they have a limited shelf life. Oh no. They never let us forget that it’s a teenage girls’ world. We’re all just wearing earplugs in it.
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