Billie Eilish: Typical teen and a superstar. Meet both in 'The World's a Little Blurry'
A good documentary includes a sense of discovery. If it's not teaching audiences something new, then at least it's showing them things in a different light.
In “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry,” director R.J. Cutler’s film about the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, he allows the audience to come in its own time to what seems obvious by the end: For all of her talent, which is considerable, and her brilliance as a recording artist, Eilish is a teenager trying to figure out her place in the world.
Of course, her place in the world is a little different than that of most teenagers. Or adults, for that matter.
But in addition to touring the world, winning six Grammys and having more than 76 million followers on Instagram, Eilish also has bratty arguments with her mom, frets over passing her driver’s exam and navigates the exceedingly rocky shores of young romance.
And if there’s a bigger Justin Bieber superfan in the world, you’d be hard-pressed to find them. Of course, she actually meets Bieber during the film before she performs at Coachella, and he FaceTimes her to congratulate her after the Grammys.
Famous people, they’re just like you and me. Only different.
Billie Eilish's life is a dichotomy
Eilish’s life is a dichotomy divided between normal growing pains and the unimaginable pressures of superstardom, and the film does an effective job of showing that. If Eilish driving a car by herself for the first time doesn’t make you nervous, nothing will. But her apprehension before taking the stage at Coachella is also nerve-racking.
It’s often said of films about artists that you don’t have to be a fan of their work to like the movie. But why else would you watch? On the other hand, why wouldn’t you be a fan of Eilish? Her ethereal sound, constructed with her brother Finneas in his bedroom, is magnetic, as is her stage presence. If the film puts her music in front of more people, all the better.
Cutler’s access to Eilish and her family is surprisingly thorough. The film is built around the writing, recording, release and response to her debut album “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” released in 2019. We learn a little about her early childhood, though not a lot. (Then again, she was only 17 when the film began shooting, though she turns 18 during filming.)
Their parents exposed Billie and Finneas to music practically since birth. “Our family was just one big (expletive) song,” Billie says.
Finneas appears to be preternaturally musical, pop hooks flowing out of him with ease. Billie hates writing songs, she says, and Finneas has to coax her. Then she sits down and comes up with a great riff or vocal part. He also has to hide from her the record company’s desire for an accessible single, knowing she would find such a request crass. But he knows the reality of the situation.
Eilish can be her own toughest critic
It’s an interesting dynamic. Billie can be overly critical of herself. “I sound horrible and I can’t sound good because I’m not good” is a teenage lament and not a true accounting of her talent. But she’s also demanding in the bedroom studio.
“It sounds like everything else we’ve written,” she tells Finneas while he plays back a song they’re working on. He’s not exactly thrilled, but accepts this with the equanimity of someone who has heard this before, many times.
Cutler doesn’t spend a long time on the creative aspect of making the record — this in a film that runs 2 hours and 20 minutes. But we get the point. It’s a successful partnership that requires some maintenance to keep chugging along.
The album was huge, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Eilish was, unsurprisingly, both thrilled and doubtful.
“I’m afraid I’ll wake up and I won’t have this anymore,” she says. “Everything I’ve ever loved I’ve had to quit.”
Watching “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry,” you hope she’s wrong. And every now and then she seems to hope so, too.
“Nominated for six Grammys,” she says while driving around. “I have my dream car. Phineas has his dream car. It’s pretty neat.”
It really is.
'Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry,' 3.5 stars
Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: R.J. Cutler.
Cast: Billie Eilish, Finneas O'Connell, Maggie Baird.
Rating: R for language.
Note: In select theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ on Feb. 26.
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