Judge Michael Nazarewycz thinks you don't know, oh-oh, you don't know you're beautiful.
This is what you would get if Tiger Beat and TMZ had not a love child, but love quintuplets.
Earlier this year, I took my younger daughter to see One Direction: This Is Us. I even sprung for 3D. My thinking was that she had earned the treat (long story), and even at 3D ticket prices and with concessions, the tab would be much cheaper than taking her to an actual One Direction concert, with its promoter fees and parking and overpriced souvenirs. Truth be told, the film wasn't terrible (damning with faint praise, I know). That, however, was a One Direction-authorized documentary film. One Direction: Reaching For the Stars, the latest cinematic offering about the group, is not a One Direction-authorized documentary film. In fact, I would barely classify it as a documentary. Or a film.
Facts of the Case
In 2010, five young men tried out for Britain's televised talent show, The X Factor. The young lads—Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson—were unsuccessful as five solo acts, but guest judge Nicole Scherzinger suggested they band together, and thus was born One Direction. Under the guidance of producer/judge Simon Cowell (TV's American Idol)), the freshly minted group went on to take third place that year. Capturing the bronze on a TV talent show doesn't necessarily sound great, but third place on The X Factor translated to first place in the hearts of millions of teens and tweens around the globe. Since their first single, "What Makes You Beautiful," set the world ablaze with its five-part harmony and incredibly catchy hook (seriously, it's a good pop tune), the U.K. boys haven't looked back, taking the music charts and teeny-boppers' hearts by perfectly coiffed storm.
Because of its "unauthorized" status, I suspected that One Direction: Reaching For the Stars would be missing the following three things: anyone affiliated with One Direction; One Direction's music; and One Direction.
My suspicions were confirmed. None of the above appear in this film. That being said, a story about a band without the band or its music cannot rely on things like slam-dunk filler (concert footage, video clips) or shot-exclusively-for-the-doc interviews, to make it more interesting. Instead, it must rely on the story it tells and the people who tell it, and on both fronts, it fails miserably.
The greatest flaw from writer/producer/director Philippa Judge is that her two-part story starts with the formation of the band at The X Factor. This is already well-documented, and there is no one on hand to offer any interesting insight or perspective that hasn't already been blogged, tweeted, or tumblr'd about by some teenage girl from her powder-puff pink bedroom. It's one thing to repeat a story like that in your own filmmaking voice as part of a greater narrative, but when your "In the beginning…" moment is the single-most spun yarn of a band that's about 10 seconds into those famous 15, you're doing it wrong. There is almost no reference to the bandmates' childhoods or what motivated them to get into music, and without those details, without any actual research or journalistic effort, the story becomes a compilation of things played out on the pages of scandal sheets and celebrity rags.
Speaking of scandal sheets and celebrity rags, the Blathering Heads in this film are veterans of such publications and media outlets—things that trade in, and profit from, rumors and gossip. That is not a judgmental statement; I love looking at tabloids in the supermarket checkout line as much as the next celebrity navel-gazer, but what is supposed to be a sinful snack is instead served here as a six-course junk food bonanza. Get me a bucket.
The second half of the film wallows in lurid kiss-and-tell recitation, confusing titillating statements for interesting facts. Things said by the Blathering Heads range from wildly inappropriate comments suggesting Harry will sleep with anyone who isn't older than his mother to a downright racist statement about how American girls would find Zayn "…interesting, exotic, different…" because he's Muslim. Look, if one Head wants to cover Harry's "Taylor Swift period," that's fine, I get it, but to have the whole lot of them break down the blink-and-you-missed-it relationship like it was the Zapruder film (Was the relationship real? Was it staged by the record labels? Whose career would have benefitted more? Was Taylor scorned?) is exponential overkill.
Two quick notes to Judge: 1: Correct the heads who call it "Madison Square Gardens" (plural) and reshoot the line. 2: At least know what year your subject's album was released.
The worst part of it all, though, is that while the film is sold as a documentary about One Direction, it plays instead as a documentary about how much the Blathering Heads know about One Direction. The first-person perspective is used so much in this film, the Heads come across like those people you know who have brushed just closely enough with fame that they try to get as many free lunches from it as possible. Tidbits start with statements like, "When I broke the story…," "I know somebody who…," "When I talk to music experts about…," and the one that actually made me yell at the TV, "Harry went on tour and was pictured kissing a girl in New Zealand, my home country…" No one cares where the Heads are from, and they think they're the life of the party, but all you want to do is show them the door.
And don't get me started on the comparisons to The Beatles.
The challenge in assessing the quality of the audio/video production of this DVD is that much of the footage that Judge uses is third-party: fan videos shot on camera phones; clips from local news telecasts; what appears to be public domain or press pool footage; and endlessly looped B-roll of the band, Cowell, fans, and so on. None of this has been touched up, which is okay because it lends to the source's authenticity. The problem is that all of the original footage—essentially that of the Blathering Heads—is of Standard Def quality in terms of image and sound. Plus, short of some visual effects that I could probably achieve by using an iPhone app, cameras were placed on tripods, the Heads had their stings pulled, and away they went.
The lone extra is the film's trailer, which is oddly similar, if not exactly like, the first 90 seconds of the film. Either they used the film's intro for the trailer or they used the trailer for the film's intro. It's a chicken/egg conundrum for a new generation.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
On behalf of my daughter: OH MY GOD THEY'RE SO CUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTE!
Regardless of my feelings toward the group and its music (other than my enjoyment of "What Makes You Beautiful," I am as detached as they come), I can recognize exploitation when I see it. One Direction: Reaching For the Stars is nothing more than an attempt to cash-in on the popularity of a group by gathering a bunch of wannabe experts, slapping together bits of sorry footage, packaging it, and calling it a documentary. The tactic is nothing new, and is the DVD equivalent of "instant biographies" that used to pop up in bookstores when a celebrity caught fire. If you like the band, or if you have children who like the band, do not buy this DVD. Apply that money to something band-endorsed. (For the record, and despite the cuteness factor, my daughter was unimpressed with the DVD and glad she didn't spend money on it.)
Wherever this doc about One Direction goes, you should go in the opposite
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Inception Media Group
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