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Singers’ charm in ‘One Direction: This Is Us’

‘ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US’
★★★

TriStar Pictures presents a documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated PG (for mild language). Opens Aug. 30 at local theaters.

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Updated: October 1, 2013 6:11AM



When it was announced that Morgan Spurlock was going to direct a documentary about the latest hot British boy band, One Direction, it sounded like an unusual choice — both for Spurlock and those managing the careers of the quintet of teen singers.

It seemed incongruous that the guy who brought us such creative documentary offerings as “Super Size Me,” “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” and “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” would be able to do much with tracking the first world tour of 1D (as the group is affectionately called by millions of mostly teen and preteen girls around the globe).

I couldn’t have been more wrong. With “One Direction: This Is Us,” Spurlock has produced a charming, well-paced, very personal insight into how five once-unknown, talented young men (third-place finishers on Simon Cowell’s British version of “The X Factor”) dealt with the explosion of fame and where it seems to be propelling them in the world of pop music.

Sure, the film is chock-full of nicely shot footage of the boys performing in stadiums around the world — from Europe to Tokyo to Mexico City. Fans undoubtedly will be singing along to such 1D hits as “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Live While We’re Young” — as were the girls who watched the screening of the film I attended.

But the true strength of Spurlock’s documentary is how he showcases the behind-the-scenes, offstage personalities of the One Direction boys: Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. All of the 1D bandmates are English, with the exception of Horan, who is Irish, but all five come from industrious, working-class backgrounds.

Quite a few poignant moments expose the boys’ homesickness, love of family and understanding that what they have achieved could be just as quickly taken away from them. On various occasions, the bandmates make it clear they will work hard so they won’t become a here-today-gone-tomorrow musical phenomenon that has happened.

It also is interesting that Spurlock — usually seen in his documentaries, but not this one — makes a big effort to show the audience how exhausting it is to be a pop superstar. The intense schedule of performances, back-to-back-to-back in the kids’ 100-show first international tour, is brutally rigorous. While One Direction obviously has support from a big production team, it’s still those five boys who have to jump on stage and perform flat out, night after night after night. Even with you on their side, it’s clear the world of rock ’n’ roll takes a lot out of them.

My major issue with “One Direction: This Is Us” is the use of distracting 3-D effects that feel forced. And the insertions of animation during some of the concert footage come off as jarring and kind of amateurish.

That said, the film is a successful witness to the great charm possessed by all five members of One Direction. I loved it when they were seen as the kids they still are, horsing around with their stage crew and bodyguards — joyfully letting off steam as they careen backstage on a forklift they’ve “hijacked.”

There are numerous comparisons throughout the film of One Direction to the Beatles. Obviously, it is way too soon to know if this quintet will one day achieve the iconic status of the Fab Four.

However, if Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis keep working as hard as they currently are doing — and continue to churn out hits that resonate with fans around the world — they have a good chance of being much more than merely a flash in the pan. Having released a number of chart-topping albums and singles, they at least have beaten back the “one-hit wonder” bugaboo.

Email: bzwecker@suntimes.com

Twitter: @BillZwecker



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