Film Review – One Direction: This Is Us

One Directon: This Is Us (G)

Directed by: Morgan Spurlock

Starring: Niall Horan, Zayn Malick, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

A documentary that follows the One Direction boys – Niall, Zayn, Liam, Louis and Harry – around the world on their first big tour was never going to offer any real insight. While in the prime of their popularity, these UK lads are not getting up to any kind of trouble that would make for controversial material. There is no pot smoking, promiscuous sex or hotel room trashing. Not only is there no room in their hectic schedule, but they are just not that kind of pop star. Also, the record label would not want to alienate the young girls downloading the albums. This is all pretty safe stuff.

The story of five young lads in their early 20s performing to thousands upon thousand of screaming and crying teenage girls touches on all the painfully obvious points – crazed fans, crowd control, huge productions, touring, performing, getting up to mischief etc. The surprising thing about this gruelling whirlwind tour that we may not have thought about is the effect it has on their parents. This makes for some of the most interesting and moving revelations. While it does not dwell on sentimentality or woe-is-me sookery, the parents of these boys who one minute auditioned for a realty TV show, then the next minute ripped from their roots and families for a 10 month world tour, are the forgotten ones. The ones who lost their children to the world and to their adoring fans. And in exploring that heartbreaking reality, this tween aimed doco sets itself aside from the recent 3D cash ins from Miley Cyrus to Katie Perry and Justin Bieber in between.

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The small town kids caught up in flashing lights angle is played out to effect as the doco charts the band’s on-a-whim creation Cowell and The Beatles-like mania. Setting the stage is important for us clueless folk who wouldn’t be able to pick one One Directioner from another in a line-up. Much is made of the serendipitous nature of how the group came together – a last-minute thought from producer Simon Cowell to bring the boys back and jam them together as a boy-band after they separately auditioned for and were eventually rejected from the 2010 season of X-Factor. Only for them to ultimately lose the competition.

But while the boys lap up the attention and ride the wave of instant success, the situation takes its toll on their parents who sit back at home missing their kids. There is an unexpected amount of loss that none of them could have prepared for. As one mother says “I am supposed to be the one taking my son to these cities” and one father says “I’m from a small town, I don’t have any advice to give him anymore.” Another even resorts to buying a promotional cardboard cut-out of her son just so she can see him. Unexpectedly candid – these are parents who are missing out on vital time with their children for a commercial endeavour.

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These heartbreaking revelations are desperately needed, seeing as this doco is so uninterested in showing us any negative impacts on the band members themselves, always showing them as fresh as daisies, even at their 53rd of 130 concerts. Or as they hoon around the arenas on golf carts in their downtime. In fact, it is this type of behaviour that shows an immature side to these boys that implies that maybe they do not realise the weight of the situation. Sure, they are young fellows just having fun, but no one around them tells them to pull their head in and remember that they are working. Not even their choreographer, whose moves they make fun of. Or the photographer whose time they waste with silly, unusable poses. Fun, down to earth larrikins, sure, but there is often a line that is crossed that lands them on the unprofessional side.

Perhaps a step back for documentarian Morgan Spurlock who famously put his health on the line for his breakout hit Super Size Me, with this sweet, tooth-ache of a concert film, but he offers glimmers of consequences of the group’s success. It is the sadness behind the brief comments made by their parents that linger beyond the catchy tunes and lyrics of the One Direction songs and their flashy concerts.

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