There's not so much direction in One Direction: This Is Us as empty reverb, an endless loop around a sanitized (but immensely profitable) nothingness. There's the clichés: the boy band's all just mates “'avin a laff;” the slog of the road; “it seems so surreal;” shots of shrieking flocks of 10- to 19-year-old girls (interchangeable from so many scenes in, say, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never); no, tonight's “the biggest show we've ever done;” shots of the guys in concert, crooning one bland ditty after another; “we've got the best fans in the world.” There's the supposed closed-circuit of fans loving the band and the band thanking them (utterly disingenuous—an actual songwriter's only noted once, while promoters and managers don't appear; band-maker Simon Cowell, though, also executive producer, is interviewed plenty). As for movie direction, it seems as distantly, gently handled as the band is—Morgan Spurlock, going nowhere but down after fast-food exposé Super Size Me, has put his name to this glossy promo of a quintet that's the equivalent of McDonald's on stage.
Their success goes unanalyzed. (They're clearly of their time and place: reality-TV song-show products, super-boosted by English gone viral in a pop-cult industry gone global-capitalist and by mass social media fostering the delusion that “they're talking to me!”) There's no note of an edge to the band in this infomercial. The only non-PG (Prettily Generic) song uttered is “Teenage Dirtbag,” but that's a cover and these five coiffed boy-men make it about as uninteresting as any other pap-muzak tune.
There's an intriguing whiff of bewilderment from Liam when he looks at a cutout of his late-teen-star self, while Niall takes the piss by disguising himself as a security guard, scoffing aloud at fans' zeal before a show. But these 19- and 20-year-olds' frequent moments of old-men-on-a-porch self-reflection—reminiscing about three years ago while fishing; sitting around a fire and imagining they'll still be best mates decades later—are laughable. Even Niall's schtick of whipping up or quieting down a mass of waiting fans seems the most innocuous metaphor imaginable for the manipulation that, unexamined here, lies at the hollow heart of all this manufactured stardom and its manufactured followers.