This Is Who?
by Jansen Musico
One Direction: This Is Us (2013)
D: Morgan Spurlock
S: Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson
Being a fan of One Direction myself, I will probably get a little heat for not calling their film perfect as other fans have already done. Though it’s far from horrible, One Direction: This Is Us somewhat fails to deliver what it promises.
There’s something about Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and Zayn Malik that make them the biggest boyband in the world. The boys have charisma, they’re full of energy, and they can sing well together. Their concert footage speaks for itself. Taken during their live concert at the O2 Arena, their show is entertaining regardless if you dislike their music.
With the added bonus of 3D, which director Morgan Spurlock uses with much gusto, their concert becomes a full-on spectacle. The screen, for example, pops out like a comic book during the boys’ infectious cover of “Teenage Dirtbag” and then turns into a deep blue ocean of gleaming white lights during an intimate performance of “Little Things.”
The concert alone would have made for good viewing, but the film promises more. Like the concert movies that have come before it, it pledges an inside look into the lives of the stars performing on stage. This Is Us follows the boys’ as they hop from country to country during their worldwide tour. It gives the audience a glimpse of their rise to fame and their backgrounds, and then decidedly focuses more on pandering fans. There’s nothing wrong with that except for the lack of sincerity it causes the film.
This Is Us comes across as a PR piece made to sell the band’s image. Spurlock follows each band member at home, but we barely get to see who they truly are as people. Each one has a chance to speak in front of the camera, or is given opportunities to talk to each other in staged scenarios like fishing and camping trips, but it’s what they do outside of these that ultimately gives away their real personalities.
The most revealing are their parents’ confessionals. When Louis and Liam’s mothers tear up at the sight of their sons’ cardboard cutouts, we get to see reality of the strain the boys’ success is causing. When Niall’s father talks about how his son knows more about the world than him or how Liam’s dad says he’s missed his opportunity to bond with him, it’s so sincere, it’s heartbreaking. It would have also been interesting to see what the boys’ friends would have to say about them since they’ve known the guys before all the craziness began.
It’s unfair to say that how the boys present themselves on screen is put on. Aside from the obvious plotted storylines, like Zayn buying his family a new house, there are several moments of truth that permeate, and Spurlock luckily catches some of these instances when the boys are left alone with each other. If he only let those interactions flow freely in front of the camera, he would have captured something indelible and special.
There are no apparent conflicts in This Is Us, which is surprising, given the flak the band has gotten since they graduated from the X Factor. There are no mentions of their squabbles with other artists, no scandals, and not even traces of their current and past relationships. It’s as if their PR agency wiped their slates clean. The film is even void of pressing dilemmas akin to Katy Perry’s marriage turmoil in Part of Me or Justin Beiber’s swollen vocal cord scare in Never Say Never. Its sole intention is to market the boys as “normal guys who had fun, but are terrible, terrible dancers.”
As a fan, these flaws are forgivable. I, like many others, have done enough due diligence to know whatever’s not shown on screen. It’s a pity to note, though, that after all the effort that went into producing This Is Us, its audience barely gets to know who the boys of One Direction really are.