The One Direction movie This Is Us is earning millions and millions around the world, but until September 19, all Australia has to go on is this titillating trailer. And also this review, from Junkee’s “eye on the youth” correspondent Patrick Lenton, who probably travelled to London, why not, to see the world premiere (he didn’t.)
One Direction are undoubtedly the hottest musical act of the moment, with several memorable hits like ‘Self Esteem Ballad’ and ‘The Hottest Foreplay is Education (Up All Night La La La)’. The sky was the limit for the sassy teens from Codswal, a quaint rural village in Britain famed for doilies – so they built a rocket out of ambition and sailed it into the great big empty vacuum of new possibilities: Hollywood.
This Is Us is a bold foray behind the glossy façade of the One Direction machine, which gets to the heart of what makes them beautiful (a reference to their song ‘Your Lack Of Meth-habit Makes You Beautiful’). And what makes them beautiful? The film argues that it isn’t the fun, artificial pop written by a highly paid team of songwriters, or their choreographed dance moves/outfits, or even their waxy good looks. It’s friendship.
Indeed, these boys are friends; they are mates, chums, buddies and pals. As Liam, the self-professed deep thinker says, “There was no reason that this had to work – we fly around the world singing and dancing and having a good time, getting paid extravagant amounts of money and meeting famous people, but nothing said we had to get along. We could have been like The Backstreet Boys, just knife-fighting on the roof at every chance. Instead we’re like Westlife, without all the tax evasion.”
But This On Them doesn’t just focus on a bunch of good-looking lads horsing around on a global scale; it also follows the success train back to the station it departed from — and who better to speak knowledgeably and at length about that than the fat controller himself, Simon Cowell.
There was a visible frisson in the cinema as Cowell’s enormous face took up the screen for the first time. Perhaps it was a fault of the cinema itself, but it truly seemed like his cheeks tipped over the edges and lapped around the back of the screen, rubbing together obscenely like two ghostly pancakes. There was a real sense that people were looking at Simon Cowell and saying, ‘Yes, I recognise that man. He is that famous man from that show.’
It was truly a powerful moment.
Cowell is both humble and triumphant as he speaks about the success of One Direction. He casually strokes a white cat, while lounging nonchalantly in his pinstriped suit, smoking an enormous cigar.
“See, the thing about them boys is dis,” he proclaims, puffing out a smoke ring. “You can’t just have talent. You have to have talent, talent, talent, talent, see? That’s why there’s four or five of them. Did I know One Direction were going to be this huge? I’d have to have been some kinda, whatcha call em, prescient geniuses. But yes, I did know, that’s why I manufactured them, built them from the ground up. The ethnic one, Zack or whatever, he used to be a seven-foot-tall rugby player from Wales, but he polled better with the puppy eyes and the stringy arms, so we had something done.”
There is a moment of silence as Cowell stares off-screen, probably remembering the horrors that the boys went through at his command, before he is interrupted by his secretary.
“What? The web-slinger strikes again? Well go get him, you morons, I’ll have no masked-menace in my city!”
After regaining his temper, he looks back at the camera, and stubs his cigar out in his whisky. “Here, enough about me, come and have a look at my helicopters, they’re a hoot, what kind of freaky science keeps them aloft I’ll never know, ya see?”
There’s a definite charm to the film, an excitement you can’t help but share as the boys show you through their life: their portable champagne fountain, the puppy pit, the room where they keep Madonna on a treadmill. You’ll shed a tear as they each buy their mother a castle in Scotland and a burial plot right next to Princess Diana’s: “Because you’ll always be a princess to me,” says an emotional Nieaghl, the one with the ears, to his mother.
But it isn’t all feel-good love-times with music. The second half of This And That features the boys travelling to a kind of mystical otherland, in order to save the goofy animal inhabitants who have been frozen under a spell of never-ending winter by Taylor Swift, who is ably played by Steve Coogan in a wig. There was some criticism that a film aimed at teen girls perhaps shouldn’t feature so much graphic ultra-violence in these scenes, notably when Harry Styles goes on a katana-wielding rampage amongst the Swift-bots, but director Quentin Tarantino stands by his vision.
“I dunno, you wake up one morning and everyone loves matching beige chinos, instead of highly-stylised revenge films,” Tarantino says. “Whatever, it’s a young person’s world — it’s like Charles Darwin said, ‘You’ve got to adapt, you’ve got to evolve, or otherwise you won’t be strong enough to defeat the Rock Gym’. ”
I give Look At This 4/5 stars, losing a star for the frequent and gratuitous shots of Madonna’s arms.
Patrick Lenton is a writer of theatre and fiction. He blogs at The Spontaneity Review and edits The Sturgeon General, a new anthology of comedy writing. He tweets inanity from @patricklenton. He has not seen This Is Us.