I happen to love music documentaries. It's one of the primary reasons I attend SXSW, because on the last few days of the fest (when the music crowd starts to move in), they play some of the best music-related docs or concert films I've ever seen. So even if I don't know the performer or style of music, I'll still check it out and see if the film makes a case that I should pay more attention to the music featured in the film. Seems like a fair deal.
After seeing the Morgan Spurlock-directed ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US doc recently, two things became very clear to me: first, the film is actually quite well made; and second, One Direction's music is horrible, and I say this having really never heard any song by the group all the way through ever before the well-shot 3-D concert footage featured in this movie.
While the film never sold me on the music, Spurlock (who does not appear in the movie) does a credible job of piecing together a solid case for the unique nature of the band's rocket-launch rise to popularity and tremendous record and concert tickets sales. The SUPER SIZE ME director's greatest achievement is giving the five members (Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson—and no, I could not look at a band photo and tell you who is who) a platform to show us their various personalities traits rather than as a single unit. He does this by interviewing family members about their almost-accidental fame, and we get to see the boys back in their respective hometowns on a tour break.
For those who don't know (including me), One Direction is made up of young men who didn't make the cut on the British version of the singing competition show "X-Factor." But Simon Cowell had the idea to pick five of the show's losers and put them together in a band—which still didn't win the final contest, but acquired enough hardcore fans to allow them to begin a career while watching their success multiply exponentially.
Before long, the boys are touring the world, running from fans and doing what they can to lead normal lives—while having everyone want to take their pictures and rip their shirts off. And no worries there, by the way; the film features many moments of shirtless young men and the occasional group member running around in his underwear. The loudest screams from the audience I saw the film with happened during those scenes... and that was just from me.
The concert footage—shot at London's O2 Arena—is beautifully shot, and is some of the best 3-D concert material I've ever seen (the team that brought U2 3D to life had a big hand in this portion of the film. But I'll be damned if One Direction's music is about as slick and boring as anything on the pop charts now or ever. In some fan interviews featured in THIS IS US, girls say that they love One Direction because they say the things in their songs that real boys won't say, and I firmly believe that is true. I'm sure those fans know that 1D didn't write the songs on their first album and contributed only slightly to the writing on their second, so more than likely it's 30-something-year-old men saying these things to them in actuality. Gross!
I'm genuinely torn by the One Direction doc. On the one hand, the raw information featured here is decent stuff, and it's interesting watching how all of the members keep each other humble and in line if someone's head gets a little too big. But, as I may have mentioned before, their music is dismal. And I'm sure I'll get a lot of angry emails from young fans, who will tell me I just don't get it. And you know what? They are absolutely, 100 percent right. I don't get it and I don't want it. If you're forced to go because your girl children need a ride, you could do worse; but I'm decidedly split on actually recommending this to the masses. But if you're not a fan going in, you're only hurting yourself if you're seeing it because you're mildly curious.