This Is Us
2013 • 92 minutes • Columbia
I learned about Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction via Arabelle Sicardi’s Twitter feed, which, since she delivered it with images of Zayn frolicking with dogs, was one of the better ways to learn about the news.
“Oh, no,” I moaned. “This is all my fault. I start researching One Direction conspiracy theories and the whole damn thing’s gone up in flames!” (I soothed myself via Damn Yankees’ “High Enough” for the rest of the afternoon.)
A week prior, Captain Cinema and I had watched A Hard Day’s Night, finally utilizing her Hulu Plus subscription for something other than classic Saturday Night Live. A Hard Day’s Night could not be a more joyous film; energetic, wry, and just getting better with age. If you haven’t watched it or just haven’t watched it recently, please go do so at your earliest convenience. I think it must be very good luck to start off spring with a picture like that. (I’m aware that the spring solstice was in March, but, as an early Aries, I more or less believe that spring starts after I’ve gotten my tax refund, Easter candy goes on sale, and I’ve eaten my birthday cake.) It got a conversation about boy bands going, which, naturally, led to the both of us independently deciding that we should watch One Direction’s feature film debut, This Is Us. Conspiracy theory research followed.
As an actively constructed boy band, One Direction fascinates me. Yes, N*SYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and the Spice Girls were just as strategically assembled, but their origin stories weren’t particularly harped on. Spice World even goes so far as to posit that the girls formed the group themselves. But those were the heady, frost-tipped nineties, when we were still perfecting reality television technology. One Direction was assembled before our very eyes from a group of teen hopefuls on the UK’s X Factor by Simon Cowell. (Side bar: Simon Cowell’s production company is literally called SyCo. Well-played, sir.) But the knowledge of how they were put together has put no damper on their fandom—in fact, it gave fans a greater investment in the band. And, if This Is Us is to be believed, it’s fan demand that has led to their global fame.
Well, that and the five year plan of their amazing stylist, Caroline Watson. I am in awe of this woman.
But don’t think for a second that the bond between band and bandom in this case is uniquely unmediated. (Even our eternal bond with Queen Bey is not so, no matter how inviting the filters on her Instagram look. She has an archive of her every instant in media. This is why she is the Queen.) Comparing and contrasting A Hard Day’s Night and This Is Us is a fascinating exercise. While A Hard Day’s Night really highlights the counterculture allure of the first incarnation of the Beatles (witness the interview scene where the boys answer inane questions with jokes), it still softens their edges—no mention at all is made of Lennon’s first wife as the boys are presented as adorable, desirable, and safe objects for the screaming hordes to pursue. This Is Us has no interest in presenting themselves as anything but the poppiest of pop, despite a brief segment where someone argues that their sound is more durable because the occasional guitar lick makes them more “rock.”
(Side bar that will one day grow up to be a side post: isn’t rock, by definition, reactionary? I’ve been beginning my mornings to the soothing sounds of Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” which is certainly not how it was intended. It’s a sliding scale.)
Instead, we learn about the boys’ lives, their journey on X Factor, all in a way that communicates how cuddly, humble, and approachable they are. (Although they’re all able singers, Niall—the only one who sings in his natural accent—especially, there’s not much time spent on their obvious talents.) When they go home during a tour break, the film carefully cuts around Niall being best man in his brother’s wedding to imply more a teenager at a family wedding than a man sharing childhood memories with his family as his brother starts a new life.They’re all quite charismatic—although there’s something archer about Louis than the other boys—but the concert footage feels a little lacking. This is probably because I have come to expect tight choreography from my boy bands, but I am (technically) a child of the nineties. The 3D effects are, as they are in any home release, absolutely hilarious.
This came out very academic for a film I spent most of my reviewing just cackling over how Liam is one thousand percent a dad (a designation solidified by his nickname of Daddy Direction), the serene perfection of Zayn, the surreality of Harry, the cuddliness of Niall, and the surprising 18th century child thief vibe of Louis. Which, I suppose, goes to show just how effective they and the machine around them are. That’s not a burn on them—the best pop stars know how to make the machinery work for them. See David Bowie, see Madonna, see Lady Gaga. It’ll be interesting to see how the band evolves over the next years, especially in the wake of Zayn Malik. And it’s reassuring to know that their fandom—their beautiful, devoted fandom, the kind that brings out the con mother in me—will be with them every step of the way.
My roommate rented this DVD from the public library.