‘This Is Us’

One Direction Documentary ‘This Is Us,’ Seen Through a Superfan’s Eyes

Erin Cunningham on seeing the new One Direction documentary, ‘This Is Us,’ with her superfan sister.

Christie Goodwin/Sony Pictures, via Everett

There were screams, tears, and possibly faints.

No, nothing tragic was happening—I was just in the audience for the One Direction documentary.

Nothing fascinates me more than raging fandom, and here it was—a crowd of serious One Direction fans, “chosen ones” viewing This Is Us before the rest of the world. These fans live, eat, and breathe One Direction, tweeting incessantly at Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson for a shout-out or a follow on the social-media site, hunting down the boys’ latest whereabouts to score an autograph or a picture. And they attack anyone who says anything bad about their boys.

But the most fascinating part of the self-proclaimed Directioners, at least to me? I am related to one of them.

At 18 going on 19, my sister shamelessly admits a major crush on Zayn, constantly checks Twitter for band updates, and is a proudly vocal superfan of the most successful boy band in the history of the world. “They all have the voices of angels,” she told me. For my sister, seeing the 3-D documentary was just like being back at the Take Me Home tour show a few weeks earlier.

While I may think the boys are cute and actually have pretty great style, it’s hard to imagine their music having any impact approaching that of legendary all-male British bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But This Is Us was directed by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), so I knew it had to have some intrinsic value despite its subject matter.

Of course, my sister was enraptured watching the movie, between the footage of the boys’ original X Factor auditions, scream-inducing concert clips (yes, I even clapped along to “What Makes You Beautiful”), and a look at their humble home lives. “It made me feel proud of them for doing all that they accomplished, like performing at Madison Square Garden,” my sister said. “Because I’ve been here since the beginning, when One Direction only had hundreds of fans, to thousands, to now millions.”

The documentary sheds some light on how One Direction attracted those millions and why the boys are such a phenomenon. Going behind the scenes into their unconventional teenage lives, audience members who were previously unfamiliar with the boys (like me) learned how normal they were and still are, how difficult it is to maintain lives like theirs, and how before X Factor they never imagined the success they have today. These are things true One Direction fans knew all along.

“I loved when the film showed their lives back at home, like when Harry visited the bakery he used to work at and the woman grabbed his bum, or how he described his first kiss as ‘steamy,’” my sister laughed. “I’m glad they added sequences into the movie that prove they’re normal teenage boys—they joke around with the trolly before the concert, Niall pushes Harry around in a garbage can, or when Liam ‘catches’ Harry out of the ocean while fishing.”

And while the boys’ lives, and the movie, may seem like all fun and games, interviews with their parents and those sentimental journeys back home underscore the hardship of separation as well. Cue my sister tearing up (OK, I may have as well) over Harry’s and Niall’s parents gushing over their sons’ success yet simultaneously longing for the time when they would see their children every day, not every few months. Still, no matter how tiresome traveling, performing, and recording may be (I did feel terrible for Zayn when he was woken up after a 10-minute nap to record more music), the boys make the best of their (billion-dollar) situation by staying true to themselves (they still don’t dance), goofing off in their spare time, and above all, remembering the No. 1 reason they’re successful: their fans.

“The movie showed people who may not follow them as closely as I do a more natural and real perspective of the boys,” said my sister. “The media sometimes try to portray them negatively, but the film shows that they are genuine.” The truest part of what my sister had to say about This Is Us? “It will make people who aren’t even hardcore Directioners fall in love with them.”

She’s right. While I may not be going to any One Direction concerts soon or sending out tweets begging the boys to follow me back, seeing This Is Us with a true follower of the band helped me understand why their fans are so dedicated. It’s not that I want to go out and buy their album, but I do want to hang out with them on a Friday night.

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I asked my sister what question she would ask the boys if she ever had the opportunity to interview them. She joked: “I’d say, ‘Let’s cut the small talk’ and ask them, ‘Will you lick my face?’”

There you go, boys—spoken like a true Directioner.