Morgan Spurlock is one tricky guy. The documentarian best known for the eye-opening, award-winning “Super Size Me” now makes a persuasive case not for the dangers of fast food but for the dizzying virtues of a British boy band. And “One Direction: This Is Us” comes this close to convincing someone who routinely avoids the song “What Makes You Beautiful” at all costs that this quintet of skinny-jeaned heartthrobs has the coolest, cutest, nicest and most talented musicians in all the land.
But I’m on to you, Spurlock. There are holes in your story about five lads who don’t appear to ever drink, smoke, fight, curse or partake in romantic dalliances of any kind. At least, not on screen.
Of course, the movie is tailored specifically for One Direction’s uncontrollably ecstatic fan base of more than 14 million Twitter followers. That group consists mainly of tween girls, so a PG rating is a must, but Spurlock paints the band members — Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson — as superhuman, even as the guys humbly insist they’re just average blokes.
The meteoric rise of One Direction is a compelling tale of chance. “X Factor” producer-turned-puppetmaster Simon Cowell recounts how, in 2010, he threw together five talented individual contestants on a whim.
The newly formed group didn’t win the British incarnation of the show that season, but they garnered a massive fan base which propelled them to unfathomable stardom. They sold out their 2013 arena tour in minutes, according to the documentary.
From there, the movie blends concert footage with backstage antics and the tomfoolery that accompanies bus rides and hotel stays. There are a few inspired additional interviews, including a neuroscientist who describes why One Direction fans lose control of their decibel level and tear ducts upon seeing the young men. The guys, who ranged in age from 19 to 21 during the filming, are portrayed as merry pranksters. They pull each other’s pants down on stage and dress in disguises to surprise fans; they make wheelies with golf carts and push each other around in trash bins.
To add a bit of emotion, the film hears from the boys’ mothers (the mere sight of these women elicited emotional sighs during an early screening) and follows the five as they take a break from touring to return home. But for the most part, the movie embraces harmless fun, which can be enjoyable for the audience members, whether they’re 1D fans or not.
Most of the singers don’t mind their boy-band designation, but they insist they aren’t the typical commodity. For one thing, they can’t dance, although they faux-try with hilarious results. They also have a little edge, Malik says. They may sport visible tattoos, but watching the boys croon the chart-topping ballad “Little Things” makes that claim one of the more dubious.
Some of the guys have made gossip rag headlines for their wild ways, including drunken behavior, but there’s no hint of that here. And the supposedly “all-access” movie conspicuously avoids any mention of love lives, including that of Malik, who announced last week he is engaged to singer Perrie Edwards.
Maybe showing those details carries the risk of alienating One Direction’s fans. When the guys sing “I’m in love with you” the “you” is meant to be each starry-eyed listener. But the absence of certain truths makes the movie feel more like marketing material for superheroes than a comprehensive documentary about human dimension. If One Direction fans end up having inordinately high standards when it comes to love, Spurlock is at least partly to blame.
PG. At area theaters. Contains mild language.