Considering she's just nineteen years old and has only released one proper album, Billie Eilish may seem an unlikely subject for a 140-minute documentary. How can there possibly be enough material to justify that length? Director R.J. Cutler made one of last year's best documentaries, Belushi, and it was only 108 minutes despite subject John Belushi's extensive work in film, television, and music. Okay, so Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry is longer than it needs to be. It's still a thoughtful, revealing look at one of the most popular musical artists around right now.
The film begins before Eilish's debut album, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was released. Already an online phenomenon, she works with producer/brother Finneas O'Connell to write songs in his bedroom at their modest family home, a process she openly detests. From there, the album is released, quickly rocketing to the top of the charts. She goes on tour, conceives her own music videos, meets adoring fans, gets chosen to record a James Bond theme, and eventually wins a ton of Grammy awards. The cameras are there for all of it.
The World's a Little Blurry is more than a simple accounting of Eilish's career. Cutler is interested in depicting her reaction to the massive wave of success that crashes into her. One of the most telling scenes finds Billie having a completely understandable bad moment during a meet-and-greet, then going online to discover that fans are angrily calling her “rude.” The weight of constantly trying to meet unrealistic expectations – from both fans and industry insiders -- triggers her depression. At the same time, her confessional lyrics, which hint at a darkness inside, are inspirational to millions, a benefit that obviously means the world to her.
More than anything, that's the gist of the documentary. Eilish has tapped into a nerve in a big, big way. She accomplished it by being herself, by putting her deepest thoughts to music and speaking from the heart. As her star rises, she has to figure out how to continue being true to herself, rather than letting the demands of the public or a record label define her. Few of us had ourselves figured out at her age. Imagine the world scrutinizing everything you do under those circumstances.
Fortunately for her, Eilish's family is very down-to-earth. Her collaborations with Finneas are productive, and her parents are determined to provide Billie with the kind of normal upbringing any teen needs. She gets to have normal moments – at least for now. We witness boyfriend problems, the acquisition of a first car, familial debates, and the charming freak-out when she meets idol Justin Bieber. Everyone seems to recognize that keeping a sense of normality is crucial not only for Billie's creativity, but for her emotional well-being, too.
The World's a Little Blurry hints at mental health issues without ever really delving into why Eilish writes such gloomy songs and utilizes creepy imagery in her videos. Her diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome is also mentioned yet left largely unexplored. Those two things would seem to significantly influence her worldview, so more detail on them would have been beneficial. Even without them, I definitely felt like I got to know the singer from the film. Her work process and reactions to the near-unanimous adoration her music receives tell us a lot.
That, ultimately, is what makes recommending the movie easy. You won't find a more stunning portrait of a young artist right at the moment when her life changes. Whether you're an established fan or just someone curious about a current musical phenomenon, Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry provides a compelling look at the impact of explosive fame.
out of four
Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry is rated R for language. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.