Remember how documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock burst into public consciousness nearly a decade ago as the public face of our fast-food epidemic with his movie Super Size Me, in which he put his body on the line by eating nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days straight? Spurlock’s fascination with consumerism and idolatry continued with his contribution to the ensemble film Freakonomics, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Mansome, and even Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. With One Direction: This Is Us – the Spurlock-directed documentary about the boy-band phenom One Direction, which amounts to little more than a big, wet kiss to the group’s worldwide legions of young, female fans – the only thing getting fat and bloated this time (hopefully) isn’t the filmmaker’s physique but instead the war chest of Spurlock’s production company Warrior Poets.
There is nothing at all warlike or poetic about the Brit boy band One Direction, a five-person outfit that became a worldwide sensation before ever putting out a record. Their origin story is emblematic of our times. The five singers – all teenage boys – tried out individually to become contestants on the British version of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor. All five failed to win a spot on the show, but Cowell, demonstrating his industry acumen, saw fit to merge the five singers into a group. Once again, the group failed to win the TV competition, but they acquired a devoted fanbase of tweeting tween girls whose enthusiasm quickly grew worldwide. Records soon followed, and of course a world tour, which provides the backdrop for this film.
A staple of rock documentaries, we’ve seen this kind of behind-the-scenes, world-tour format many times before. All teens when the tour started (the oldest among them is now 21), there’s not a lot of life experience these five can offer to a filmmaker. Nor are they prone to Bieber-like bloopers that feed the scandal sheets and keep their immaturity in the public eye. Yet they drive the young girls wild, and all one has to do is remove a shirt (one of the film’s frequent refrains) to ignite an earsplitting shriek-a-thon. Of course, none gets any closer to a girl than signing an autograph, and drugs and booze are nowhere to be seen. They’re just your average teenage lads who caught the Golden Ticket to fame, the film would have us believe. Call me cynical, but this sanitary portrait lacks a verité feel. Even the awkward backstage appearances of Martin Scorsese and Chris Rock during One Direction’s stint at Madison Square Garden testify more to the fact that they are both dutiful fathers of adolescent girls rather than any kind of seal of approval. They just bypassed the line to get their free McNuggets.