One Direction’s new movie hits the wrong notes

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Artwork by Christina Wang.

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I am not a Directioner. I don’t own any of One Direction’s music or follow their every move. In fact, I’ve forgotten their names a few times. With that in mind, it should be of no surprise that I was embarrassed to be seen headed into their new movie, One Direction: This is Us. I sat down next to my 1D-loving best friend, slightly afraid of what was to come. This is Us wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and for that, I’m grateful.

This is Us follows One Direction – a boy band comprised of five members: Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan – on part of their 2013 world tour, giving fans a look behind the scenes at their life on the road. While their music is featured in the film, This is Us is more about the band’s rise to fame than their chart-topping songs.

Most of the film is spent watching the members of One Direction being goofy in different parts of the world. Watching them zip around in golf carts backstage or joke around in a hotel room is candid, organic, and entertaining enough, and it’s easy to see why they’ve garnered so many fans. The boys themselves are personable and surprisingly down-to-earth, conscious of both their humble beginnings and the inevitable end to their stardom.

However, the most interesting and bizarre thing about This is Us is undoubtedly the Directioners, the band’s fanbase. I lost count of all the hysterically screaming/crying tweens (girls between the ages of 10 and 12) after a while, but their individual reactions were nothing compared to the frenzied crowds following One Direction everywhere. One of the best scenes in the documentary begins with the band headed out shopping. Two girls see them, and dozens more begin to appear out of nowhere, swarming around them. The fans are omnipresent and only a little creepy, staking out hotels and stadiums in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the group.

This is Us finds heart in interviews with the boys and their families about the downsides of fame. These poignant moments are relatable and humanizing, showing one side effect of stardom. Notably absent from the film is practically everything related to the media’s treatment of the band, and there are no romantic interests present in This is Us, either. Every time we get close to discussing those topics, we’re cut away to a song or a shot of the boys horsing around. Eliminating a huge part of One Direction’s story from the film creates a glossed-over, incomplete image that’s a tad too perfect to be believable.

Morgan Spurlock, known for conversation-starting documentaries like Super Size Me and POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, seems like an odd choice as director. The cinematography is pretty, giving us a band’s-eye-view of the world, but the film is definitely not his best work. Unlike his other films, This is Us isn’t trying to make a broader statement about anything and lacks complexity and conflict, simply telling a story about a boy band.

The film’s 3D is used sparsely but creatively. Spurlock’s punchy signature graphics pop during the concert scenes, flying out at the audience, but don’t appear much elsewhere. Fans will get a kick out of the gimmick, but casual viewers can pass on it, as it doesn’t add much to the story.

I am not a Directioner, but I now understand why others might be one. One Direction: This is Us is worth seeing if you’re looking for some lighthearted fun or you’re curious to see what all the hype is about. It’s not quite a blockbuster and certainly isn’t Oscar material, but it will please its target audience – fans.

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