Film review: ‘One Direction: This is Us’ a Straight Shot of Joy

1184625 - ONE DIRECTIONThere’s nothing better than sharing a positive experience with your son or daughter. And having fun while learning more about a part of his/her connection to the world is pretty nice, too.

Such was my happy experience watching a recent advance screening of One Direction: This is Us with my 14-year-old daughter Katie (along with my wife Ann and Katie’s friend Liv, who also thoroughly enjoyed it). I knew little about the group and the worldwide phenomenon they’ve become apart from comments by Katie and a few news items, but thanks to the sharp eye of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?) this film gives us solid background on the troupe’s formation and rise while also being a straight shot of joy.

1184625 - ONE DIRECTIONFor the uninitiated here’s the background on the British-Irish quintet that makes up what fans often refer to as “1D”: In the summer of 2010, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson entered Britain’s TV talent show “The X Factor” individually. Simon Cowell – yes, also the “American Idol” judge fans love or hate – thought the five would be better together, and got them to compete as a unit. They lost the competition, but Cowell shrewdly used their television debut as a launch pad for hit albums (including chart-topping songs in the UK, US and elsewhere) and sold-out concerts that have made them global pop stars.

Much of the film chronicles the 2012-13 tour that accompanied the release of “Take Me Home,” the band’s second album. That tour took Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry, and Louis to Europe, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, and we see the incredible crowds that greeted them at various stops on that tour. Through the well-employed use of 3D – which has certainly gone from the gimmick of decades past to a powerful and at times profound narrative tool – their O2 Arena concerts in London, among other moments, explode at the audience with all the vibrancy and happiness these young men and their fervent followers can muster.

1184625 - ONE DIRECTIONSpurlock’s mastery of documentary storytelling technique gives us an appropriate fly-on-the-wall look at what goes on behind those concerts. From about 500 hours of footage shot by Spurlock, cinematographer Tom Krueger and their colleagues  we’re taken from the playful antics of the singers to poignant moments when they talk about missing the families they so rarely see now (some of their parents speak of the regular separations from their sons, providing powerful moments in this piece as well). And a homecoming scene such as Harry’s return to his family bakery – where he’s once again under the motherly supervision of the establishment’s female employees – is a sweet treat indeed.

No, this is not the fictional fable of A Hard Day’s Night or the chronological compendium of This is Elvis, but it isn’t meant to be; One Direction: This is Us delivers what its title promises by giving their fans more glimpses of their favorite group onstage and off while neophytes like myself get an introduction to the personalities, perspectives and incredible reception 1D has gotten from London and Tokyo to New York and Mexico City. And I’ll cherish watching my daughter happily savoring each moment long after this fun film leaves theaters – any movie that creates that kind of pleasant memory is tops in my book.

1184625 - ONE DIRECTIONOne Direction: This is Us ( opens nationally in wide release today (Aug. 30) with standard and digital 3-D screenings. For locations and show times in the Nashville area check the websites of Regal Cinemas (, Carmike Cinemas ( and Malco Theatres ( Rated PG for mild language, 95 min. Directed by Morgan Spurlock.



*Photos by Christie Goodwin, Charlie Campbell and Calvin Aurand courtesy TriStar Pictures.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (


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