Let’s not bury the lede here – attending Morgan Spurlock’s latest film, a Frankenstein’s monster of concert film and cliché-laden personal documentary about Britain’s insanely popular boy band One Direction, solo during its first night of showings is incredibly boring. Perhaps because the excitement among fans wasn’t palatable (most of them were surprisingly sedate, at least until a shirtless 1D-er ambled across the big screen, which happens in Spurlock’s film a lot) or because attendance was low or because it was a school night or even because I am so, so old these days (at least, that’s how I felt), but the experience of attending One Direction: This Is Us at 7PM on a Thursday night in an Upper East Side AMC theater was one of the most flaccid movie-going experiences of my entire life. There weren’t even special edition 3D glasses.
I arrive early. Afraid I’ll get a “bad” seat because of a swollen attendance, I walk up to the theater a full half an hour before showtime. It is far too early. Most likely expecting both a larger crowd and a more rowdy one, the theater provides a roped-off area for fans to line up before being admitted into the theater. No one is wearing any One Direction gear, there is only the occasional scream, and the only thing festive is one sad balloon, bobbing above its owner’s pig-tailed head. It’s star-shaped. (The balloon, not its owner’s head.) The teen girls behind me don’t chirp about the film to come, not one of them muses about what we might see, there are no arguments over who is the better-looking 1D lad – instead, they start talking about television shows. What do kids like these days? Or, more specifically, what do sixteen-year-old girls like these days? Turns out, they like what I like – Breaking Bad, Drunk History, Game of Thrones. One of them tears up as she talks about the Red Wedding, which seems like a bit of an overreaction, but I’ll allow it.
If you’re wondering why I was there (much like I was at this point, a full twenty minutes before the film is due to start), it wasn’t just in service to snark or as a misguided anthropological study. I’ve managed to miss the other big concert films that have come out in recent years – Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, they’ve all slipped by without my attention – but One Direction: This Is Us was unavoidable (at least professionally speaking, I was assigned to review the film). Seeing it with a crowd of fans seemed like the best way to get the full experience. In some ways, I guess it was.
Seemingly admitting defeat (and the uselessness of the line), an AMC employee lets us in and directs us down into the bowels of the Third Ave. theater. There are only about twenty other people in Theater 7, and all of them have friends. The median age is 15. The theater has forgotten to provide 3D glasses, and the only excitement to kick up for about ten minutes is when an employee enters the theater with a box of them. The theater is so deep underground that I am without cell service, prohibiting me from tapping out sassy tweets about the situation. I rearrange my iPhone wallpaper and play Tapper instead. The median age rises with the entrance of a few beleaguered mothers, attendance tips into the twenty-something territory, and one lone tween boy finally changes the demographics (he appears to know everyone in the theater, making him a bit of a pre-show hit).
A charming youngster, one of the smallest in the theater, zooms up and down the aisles as her mother wearily tells her “you need to calm down.” Less than ten seconds later, the girl falls right on her face with a comedic “thump!” She gets right back up and resumes her running.
One girl finally appears wearing a One Direction tee shirt. It’s a cute design, and it makes me remember my own awkward tween years as a boy band fan when the best shirt I could wrangle at a concert was a hideous black and blue Backstreet Boys affair that I refused to wear out of the house. If there had been a Backstreet Boys 3D film back in those days (or even an NSYNC 3D concert film, let’s just be honest here), I would have lost my mind. I would have screamed bloody murder the entire time. The patrons of One Direction: This Is Us remain calm, tapping away on their smart phones (why do they get service down here?) and chatting in tones far too even to accompany a boy band-centric outing.
The smart phones. That’s the thing, really. Kids these days have an immediate accessibility to their idols – they can follow their Twitters and Tumblrs and Instagrams and feel instantly connected to them. They don’t have to wait for the latest issue of “Tiger Beat” to give them information about the favorite color of their favorite member, they can just hop on the ol’ Internet machine and get fresh gossip. For a minute, I am both envious of these modern fans and sad that they’ll never feel enough distance from their “heroes” to get over-the-top excited about an entire film dedicated to them.
I feel old again. My crotchety mindset serves us all well, however, after the minutes creep past the film’s starting time and I finally stop counting attendees (it maxes out around 40 in a theater that seats 286) and wonder just when the hell this show is going to get on the road. I make the trek back up to the lobby, where a bored employee radios someone else to ask when the movie will start. I huff. I puff.
I go back downstairs to watch the One Direction film. The film starts at 7:25 – well, the sound starts, the screen stays blank. This happens intermittently for about ten minutes. It’s maddening, but it also elicits a response from the snoozing crowd, who scream when the screen briefly flashes a glimpse at Louis Tomlinson (who, it must be noted, has the best hair in the entire film). Every time the sound stops, the fans yell “nooooooo!” Another AMC employee finally comes into the theater, passes off the problems as “technical difficulties” (no duh, sir) and then promises the film will start momentarily (with no trailers) and that we’ll all be compensated with vouchers for new tickets afterwards.
That’s when the crowd really gets cooking. They yell. They scream. They holler. They demand to know the employee’s name. So they can thank him. Suddenly, the entire theater is clamoring to say the loudest “thank you.” It proves to be a prodigious warm-up, because the film cues up before the stunned employee can even get out the door, and that’s when the screams directed at the screen finally start. It may not be a movie for me, but it’s a movie for them, and as bored as I still feel, I also remember what it’s like to be where they are now, and I appreciate the sentiment, finally.