Pop quiz: Define "documentary." It's a film stitched together from actual events. If a cameraman records a clutter of nervous kids at a spelling bee competition, or a pack of fiends stabbing dolphins in Japan, congratulations, that's a documentary.
Or is it? What if a documentary isn't defined by what it contains, but by what it omits? Is a documentary that leaves out the dirty bits any more truthful than a bachelorette who claims she can't remember her crazy night in Vegas?
This week, Morgan Spurlock's sanitized One Direction: This is Us
bends the definition of documentary so far that it snaps like a drumstick.
It's not a diss to admit that the five heartthrobs in One Direction, a cheery quintet who's made millions introducing 12-year-old girls to their hormones, have been phony since the day they were forged by Simon Cowell, who lumped them together and told them to sing or get booted off X-Factor. (At least they can sing, and well.) They're stars, not artists. They don't write their own songs or choose their own clothes--in the grand tradition of pop Svengalis, Simon's simply selling their image.
And Spurlock is a happy shill. Eight years after being nominated for a Documentary Feature Academy Award for Super Size Me
, he's cranked out this 92-minute commercial. But it's unclear who's buying. A teen fan ponying up $14 for a 3D ticket won't learn anything new about her favorite band. She'd get way more bang for her buck with the $2.99 digital book 101 Amazing One Direction Facts
, which divulges that Niall's middle name is James and Louis is turned on by vegetables. ("SERIOUSLY everyone knows Louis likes girls who like carrots," groaned an Amazon reviewer.)
Though the boys are all legal to drink in England -- and famous for drinking in YouTube clips -- on film they don't touch a drop. Though two of them are in long-term relationships (at the premiere, Zayn even announced his engagement to a fellow X-Factor
refugee named Perrie), on film they don't even reference girls except as fans. What's odd about the omissions is these are facts their fans know -- they know them so well, in fact, that a Twitter account called @EleanorFacts
about Louis' presumably carrot-loving girlfriend of two years has over 7,400 followers. (The girl herself
has just shy of 3 million.)
She doesn't exist in Spurlock's world. This is Us makes earlier concert docs like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Katy Perry: Part of Me -- both films Spurlock unsuccessfully wheedled to direct -- feel as investigative as The Fog of War. At least the Biebs came across as a bit of a brat, and whenever Perry unhooked her peppermint bra, she dealt with her divorce from Russell Brand.
Spurlock could argue that This is Us is more of a semi-fictional romp like A Hard Day's Night, but all they have in common are accents and skinny pants. From the start, Spurlock feigns to ground his film in reality with a montage of the lads as wee British babies. (Although, blunderingly, he doesn't even bother to identify who is who.) Richard Lester would have never sugared the credits with old photos of George, Paul, John and Ringo as babies -- what treacle. And Hard Day's Night is clearly set in fantasy land. Who really believes that Ringo Starr would get arrested for malicious intent, acting in a suspicious manner, and conduct liable to cause a breach of the peace? Those crimes sound more like One Direction's roguish Harry Styles. Not that you'd know it from watching Spurlock's pop schlock.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Twitter: