×

Film Review: ‘One Direction: This Is Us’

Directioners should show up in full force for this alternately inspired and insipid concert doc.

With:

Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Jon Stone, Dan Richards, Sandy Beales, Josh Devine, Simon Cowell.

Once one reaches a certain age, the procession of teen pop idols becomes a cruel reminder of the passage of time and the inevitability of death. For any non-teenager attending Morgan Spurlock’s concert documentary “One Direction: This Is Us,” intimations of mortality will be felt most strongly during the “classic cover song” section of the group’s set, wherein the boy band reaches all the way back to Blondie’s “One Way or Another” and Wheatus’ 2000 golden oldie “Teenage Dirtbag.” Yet the film’s central fivesome prove charming pallbearers throughout the film, which alternates between inspired and insipid as it hits its hagiographic marks. Directioners should show up in full force.

One Direction is, needless to say, an extraordinarily successful English/Irish quintet assembled from the outcasts of a 2010 “X Factor” audition. “X Factor” overlord Simon Cowell noticed the fivesome among the aspirants, and wondered if perhaps assembling an entire group of attractive teenage male singers might prove a winning business model. It was a gamble, to be sure, but once tethered together, One Direction ended up finishing in third place and immediately signed to Cowell’s Syco Records label, where they quickly evolved into a worldwide sensation, becoming the first British act to top the U.S. album charts with a debut album.

One Direction is hardly the first pop group to have its every formative step stage-managed by TV crews, yet it’s certainly the first to go on to attain this level of success. How the group developed post-“X Factor” would seem a fertile topic for a media-savvy documentarian like Spurlock — particularly as One Direction’s underlying sense of irony seems anathema to Cowell’s rigidly straight-laced model of pop stardom — yet the director generally plays things straight, interspersing live footage of the boys at London’s O2 Arena with behind-the-scenes shenanigans from their globe-hopping 2012-13 tour.

While it lacks anything approaching insight, the film does contain reams of squealing fans, frequent shirtlessness and cameos from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Chris Rock, and an endearingly enthusiastic Martin Scorsese, who drops in on the group’s dressing room before a Madison Square Garden show. Although the group is described as “a bit anarchic” by a British critic here, any evidence of paramours or partying has been scrubbed clean from these reels, and the fivesome rarely say anything of much interest. Yet they’re unerringly charming oncamera, and for a generation raised on Justin Bieber’s Twitter musings, hearing the heavily accented Liam Payne describe the group “proper having a full-on strop” must seem thrillingly exotic.

It helps that the group has a charisma machine in mop-topped breakout heartthrob Harry Styles. Displaying the sort of smirking insinuation one rarely sees from teen idols, Styles seems to have spent months studying vintage Mick Jagger interview footage, and supplies most of the film’s bon mots while lounging in bed or gazing half-disinterestedly into the distance. Once his onstage demeanor grows to encompass his offstage insouciance, he could be a monster.

While Styles is the most camera-friendly of the group, it’s hard not to notice that Zayn Malik seems to handle nearly all the most demanding vocal parts in concert, while also getting the least amount of face time amid the backstage hijinks. A retiring, heavily tattooed practicing Muslim who pursues graffiti art in his spare time, Malik gradually emerges as the most intriguing subject of the five, as well as the most underserved by the film’s function as a purely promotional product.

Spurlock does occasionally endeavor to break up the film’s more formulaic paces. At times, he’ll introduce unexpected digressions, such as a sudden cut from concert footage to a neuroscientist explaining the ways music affects dopamine levels in the brain. At others, he attempts a sort of Richard Lester-style hyperreality, effectively interviewing band members by having them ask one another canned junket-style questions, and staging some hit-or-miss high-concept sketches. (To be fair, it’s possible that these lads really do go camping together in the middle of Sweden during their off-hours, and gather around the bonfire at night to discuss whether they’ll still be mates once the band has run its course. But surely they would normally sit around the fire, rather than crammed together in a camera-facing semi-circle.)

As for the concert, the performance footage is quite well shot and ably tarted up with some eye-catching 3D bells and whistles. Unique among teen idols in their disdain for dancing, One Direction actually puts on a relatively no-frills live show, singing without any overly obvious backing tracks and supported by a modest four-piece band. Songs — especially those composed by the troika of Carl Falk, Rami Yacoub and Savan Kotecha — are incontrovertibly catchy, and blessed with a bit more of a rockist edge than One Direction’s more recent antecedents ever attempted.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'One Direction: This Is Us'

Reviewed at AMC Century City 15, Los Angeles, Aug. 15, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary) A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a TriStar Pictures presentation of a Syco Entertainment, Modest! production in association with Warrior Poets, Fulwell 73. Produced by Simon Cowell, Adam Milano, Morgan Spurlock, Ben Winston. Executive producers, Richard Griffiths, Harry Magee, Will Bloomfield, Doug Merrifield, Jeremy Chilnick, Matthew Galkin.

Crew:

Directed by Morgan Spurlock. Camera (Deluxe color, 3D), Tom Krueger; editor, Pierre Takal; music, Simon Franglen; music supervisor, Kier Lehman; sound (SDDS/Dolby Digital/Datasat), Mark Atkinson; supervising sound editor, John Warhurst; re-recording mixers, Paul Massey, Jamie Roden; visual effects, Bluebolt, MPC; visual effects supervisors, Harry Badgett, Angela Barson; stereographer, Nick Brown; assistant director, Deborah Saban.

With:

Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Jon Stone, Dan Richards, Sandy Beales, Josh Devine, Simon Cowell.

More Film

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

  • 'Weathering With You' Heads for $100

    'Weathering With You' Heads for $100 Million Box Office Haul

    Makoto Shinkai’s animated romantic drama “Weathering with You” passed the JPY10 billion ($94 million) mark in Japan on Wednesday, according to an announcement by distributor Toho. This makes it the tenth-highest earning Japanese film of all time. Since its release on July 19 on 448 screens in 359 complexes, the film has racked up 7.52 million admissions. The [...]

  • Burn review

    Film Review: 'Burn'

    There’s more smoke than fire in “Burn,” a reasonably promising single-location thriller that never quite settles on what it wants to be — a straight-up suspense piece, twisty black comedy, oddball character study, etc. “All the above” would be a tall but not impossible order to pull off. The problem is that writer-director Mike Gan’s [...]

  • Rounds

    Sarajevo Film Review: 'Rounds'

    Five features (plus a scattering of documentaries) into his career, leading Bulgarian writer-director Stephan Komandarev has resisted cultivating a clear thematic or stylistic throughline to his oeuvre. Yet his latest, the overnight police patchwork “Rounds,” feels surprisingly close to quintessential, pulling as it does plot points, structural models and tonal switches from his previous films [...]

  • Travis Scott Surprises Fans With Netflix

    Travis Scott Surprises Fans With Netflix Documentary Reveal, Pop-Up in Houston

    Travis Scott just revealed his new Netflix documentary in the most organic way possible: a social media post to his 18.5 million followers on Instagram. The photo consisted of him holding a series of VHS tapes, which turns out to be the trailer for his forthcoming documentary on Netflix titled “Look Mom I Can Fly.” [...]

  • Overcomer

    Film Review: 'Overcomer'

    No matter the setting or circumstances, the solution to every dilemma found in Christian Evangelical films is getting closer to God. That certainly holds true with regards to “Overcomer,” the latest bit of bigscreen proselytizing by writer-director-star Alex Kendrick (“War Room,” “Courageous”). The story of a high school basketball coach who’s forced to take over [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Inside the Spider-Man Split: Finger-Pointing and Executive Endgames

    Spider-Man’s neighborhood has been decidedly unfriendly this week. A private and contentious battle over the onscreen future of the beloved Marvel superhero has spilled out into the public square over the past few days. After making nice for two wildly successful films, Sony Pictures, which holds the licensing rights to the Marvel character, will go [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content