Morgan Spurlock’s 3D documentary about One Direction has just enough grit and insight to stop it seeming like simply a glossy promotional vehicle for the boy band phenomenon.
Perhaps in deference to Richard Lester’s Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night, Spurlock includes plenty of scenes of the five band members larking about behind-the-scenes. We see them running and jumping, putting on silly disguises and leading their security minders on a merry dance.
Spurlock also makes fleeting attempts to understand just why Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis induce such intense feelings of devotion in their teenage female fans. The fans themselves explain that One Direction “sing our feelings.” A neuroscientist pops up on screen to tell us that the band’s music triggers a deeply pleasurable release of dopamine in the band’s most devoted listeners.
The documentary is by turns revealing and strangely evasive. There are poignant interviews with the band members’ parents who feel extraordinary pride in their achievement and yet clearly miss them when they away for months on end and are slightly baffled by the transformation in their lives. We see Harry back in the baker’s shop where he once worked.
There’s not much in the way of sex and drugs when One Dimension go on tour. Although the girls adore the band and respond to them with hysterical enthusiasm during the concert sequences (very effectively filmed in 3D), the band members’ own love lives are strictly off limits. There’s no sign of a Cynthia Lennon or Yoko Ono here.
Early on, Spurlock sketches in the story of the band’s rise to fame. Simon Cowell (who is one of the producers of the film) appears on screen, sitting at the end of a table and looking slightly Blofeld-like, to explain why he felt that the five, who originally appeared on the X Factor as solo artists, would work better together in a group.
We learn how the fans, helped propel One Direction to their extraordinary level of success. Much of the rest of the film follows them on tour. They’re personable, talented and hard working and seem to relish life on the road. From time to time, though, there are hints that being plucked from your families, turned into pop idols and mobbed wherever you go isn’t such an idyllic existence after all.
Trailer for One Direction: This Is Us