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Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 03:25 pm

One Direction impresses in Us


A scene from One Direction: This Is Us.

Not sure if I should admit this, but the earworm that is One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” is among 2,000 songs on my iPod. Occasionally, that snappy pop ditty starts rattling around in my head and my thumb is furiously working the selection wheel, flying down the list of songs until I find it and hit play. Is it good music? Hardly, but as a pop songs go, its serves its purpose as a three-minute diversion and before you know it, my feet are tapping and I’m singing softly to myself.

So, I wasn’t exactly dreading having to sit through One Direction: This is Us, the documentary that follows the band on their massive 2012 world tour, giving us a behind the scenes look at what makes these boys tick, and truth be told, I had a good time with it. Not only are the songs serviceable as pop fare (“Live While We’re Young” will find a spot on my iPod) but the film doesn’t come off as too much of a marketing tool in service of the group’s continued push toward world domination. Credit director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) for that. He devotes more screen time to the singers’ offstage life than their performances, allowing us to get to know these five young men and grounding the movie in the process.

One of the more interesting things about the film is the way it shows how modern celebrities are created by recounting how quickly they became a worldwide brand. Having auditioned individually for the British talent show The X Factor, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson didn’t make it to the final round of the competition but were thrown together by producer Simon Cowell to form a boy band to compete during the next season of that show. They failed to win that contest as well but struck such a nerve with the young female audience, who took to various social media networks to spread the gospel of One Direction, that before they had even cut and released their first single, they were a known commodity with a solid fan base.

To be sure, there’s no shortage of interest in the young men. We see thousands upon thousands of teenage girls giving their vocal chords a good workout whenever they catch a glimpse of the boys. They foolishly decide to take a walk while in Amsterdam and are forced to hole up in a Nike shop after they’re spotted and word spreads like wildfire via Twitter. Perhaps the oddest sight in the film is seeing director Martin Scorsese, daughter in tow, visit them backstage before their first show at Madison Square Garden, and compliment them on their work. That’s media saturation for you.

What’s refreshing is that these young men come off as genuine, well-meaning lads who are, not only stunned by their meteoric rise but are aware enough to realize how lucky they are and that this won’t last forever. Payne and Styles both worry that the focus on their stage personae has been so overwhelming that their true identities will always be overlooked, while you can tell that Horan is appreciating his parents and home more than ever, now that he’s been away.

If anything, I was left feeling a bit concerned about these boys. They’ve already announced a 2014 stadium tour and one can’t help but be worried that despite their nurturing parents and smart management team, that a constant life on the road may lead to an early burnout for them, the tragic results of which we’ve seen time and again. After all, we witness Malik buying his single mother a house. Who wouldn’t want to see a young man like that be safe?

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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