Why the producers of this behind-the-scenes look at the boy band One Direction would choose Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me") is understandable: They wanted to give this feature the patina of documentary respectability. Why Spurlock agreed is only partially understandable. On the one hand, this clearly well-funded film from Syco Entertainment, a joint venture of Simon Cowell and Sony Music, must have been appealing given most documentary filmmakers' struggles to raise funding. On the other, he must have suspected he'd be compromising his credibility by helping manufacture this music company's carefully whitewashed fantasy.
One Direction, as even those who aren't teenage girls must know by now, is the U.K.-based boy band that's more or less the male Spice Girls. Assembled by impresario Cowell after each auditioned separately for the British edition of "The X Factor," the quintet came in third on that show, but met with arena-bursting success afterward.
Spurlock's craftsmanship is remarkable, with astute pacing, lively and creative visuals, fluid cinematography in the many concert scenes and -- a key factor missing from many music documentaries -- a real sense of place, providing a feeling of being inside a scene rather than simply observing. Moments when the bandmates' parents open up, exhibiting stoic gratitude for their working-class sons' good fortunes, are moving.
Yet such well-observed human interactions with the band's stylist or choreographer or security chief are overshadowed by an airbrushed image of celibate wholesomeness without groupies or even girlfriends, and where evidently nothing stronger than milk passes these young men's lips. The boys go camping one day "by themselves" and with a film crew, and we're to believe that the core of what Sony has called a $50-million golden goose is left alone in the woods without bodyguards, a medic, a producer's liaison and who knows what else?
Despite this and other apparent artifices, the boys come off as sensible, grounded lads. But with so much of this film, like the band's image itself, produced and polished to a gleam, there's mostly no way to tell what's real in this reality show.
PLOT Nonfiction feature about the U.K. boy band
RATING PG (mild language)
CAST One Direction, Simon Cowell
BOTTOM LINE Alleged documentary is more like a feature-length reality show.
ROCK DOCS: ZEP, STONES, METALLICA, THE BAND
Teen fans (mostly female) will no doubt flock to see "One Direction: This Is Us," the new documentary about the boy band phenomenon, this weekend. Here are four other documentaries about bands that also struck a chord.
THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME (1976) -- Led Zeppelin was the subject of this mashup featuring footage from their Madison Square Garden concert and band members' fantasies (manager Peter Grant imagines himself as a 1930s gangster).
THE LAST WALTZ (1978) -- Martin Scorsese's acclaimed film goes behind the scenes of The Band's final concert (in San Francisco) in 1976. Rounding out the movie are plenty of guest stars, from Ringo Starr to Eric Clapton.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER (2004) -- The heavy metal band was hardly in perfect harmony as a documentary crew shot them for two tension-filled years as they created their album "St. Anger."
SHINE A LIGHT (2008) -- Scorsese again, this time giving plenty of satisfaction to Rolling Stones fans as he shot the group during their "A Bigger Bang Tour."
-- Daniel Bubbeo