Friends thought I was joking when I said I wanted to see this film. I am not a Directioner. I’m a middle aged man. For all practical purposes, those are opposites. I wanted to see it though for the same reason I want to see any documentary: to learn something.
Nobody expressed concern for my mental health when I saw No End in Sight (2007), Charles Ferguson’s account of Bush’s bungling of the Iraq war, or The Cove, Louie Psihoyos’ 2009 expose about animal abuse in Japan.
I’m particularly fond of documentaries about creative or artistic types. If curiosity led me to movies like Sydney Pollack’s Sketches of Frank Gehry (2006) or the granddaddy of the rock doc, D.A. Pennebaker’s Dylan chronicle Don’t Look Back (1967), would it be less likely to lead me to One Direction: This Is Us?
Hell yeah. For the obvious reason that 1D aren’t artists or creative types. Of the band’s members (Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan) only Horan can even play an instrument. They claim no genius for studio experimentation and admit they can’t dance to save their lives. None has ever written a song though Styles dated Taylor Swift and we know what that means: Yup, she wrote one about him (“I Knew You Were Trouble”).
What makes their story significant is the mind boggling fact that, despite minimal musical gifts and the brief amount of time they’ve been in the funky hunk business (their first album was released in 2011), they’re on track to be worth a billion dollars by the end of the year. What I learned watching this film is that what it means to be the biggest band in the world has changed completely in my lifetime.
First, it was all a fluke. As we see in the movie’s opening, the guys each entered and were eliminated individually from the British version of The X Factor. That’s when pop puppetmaster Simon Cowell got the idea to combine the cute castoffs into a group whose sole purpose was to rock the world of social media savvy girls. The boys’ fans literally tweeted them to the top. One day they were singing for music halls of swooning tweens. The next, they were singing in stadiums. Around the world.
Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) might seem an odd match for a project as unabashedly promotional as This Is Us. He’s been mostly about promoting himself. As the movie alternates between concert sequences and backstage scenes in which the lads cavort, however, one realizes what attracted him. “It’s the closest to Beatlemania I’ve seen in my lifetime,” he’s said. ” If this can be a documentary Hard Day’s Night, we’ll accomplish something pretty great. And I think we did…” So the guys are the Beatles and Spurlock’s the new Richard Lester. Somebody’s ego’s been super sized.
Don’t get me wrong. The prefab five seem like charming, sincerely grateful guys. They’ve got good looks and passable voices have taken them absurdly far. For his part, Spurlock makes inventive use of 3-D technology. The picture’s trippy in places, making it more pleasant to sit through the forgettable songs than it otherwise would’ve been. But Beatle comparisons? Please. One Direction’s less a band than a business plan.
Albeit an incredibly successful one. How incredible? Guinness lists Paul McCartney as the most successful musician in history. He’s been at it for half a century and Forbes estimates his worth at $650 million. Two years; one billion. Granted these guys work their butts off but I think we can agree this is one tour that’s a pretty magical mystery.