R.J. Cutler’s documentary offers uncanny access to one of the biggest artists today

By: Steve Pulaski

It says something about the collective psyche that Billie Eilish is among the biggest artists today. That something is how damn depressed and lonesome so many of us feel, even prior to a catastrophic global pandemic. Rather than tell us about Billie’s appeal, R.J. Cutler’s Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry shows it in intimate detail. Like Billie, it can get exhausting and scatterbrained, but her adoring fans won’t care. They’d likely wish the already 140 minute documentary were longer.

Cutler caught lightning in a bottle, filming Billie’s early days as a recording artist working out of her brother/producer’s bedroom. I’m sure even he couldn’t imagine his film would conclude with the 2020 Grammys where Billie would bring home awards for Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album (and be tabbed to write/record a song for the yet-to-be-released James Bond film No Time to Die).

Completely avoiding the sometimes-derogatory label of a “talking head documentary,” Cutler’s film is more a series of observations of Billie — and they are often as intimate as her fans could ask. A great deal of focus is on her family, to whom she’s close: mother Maggie, who gave her insights to songwriting, father Patrick, who gave her music lessons, and her brother Finneas O’Connell, who is frequently by her side. The siblings were homeschooled, and refreshingly, given all the supportive and creative energy they could need from their kind, free-spirited parents. At 13, Billie released her first single on SoundCloud, finding hundreds of listeners. Now her streams are in the hundreds of millions.

To call Billie Eilish precocious is putting it mildly. This is a 16/17-year-old who understands the weight of the world on her shoulders: her image, her brand, and her artistry is constantly evolving. As private as she can be with her fans, she leaves it all on the stage, even if her nagging leg injury and shin-splints can dampen her physicality. I was stunned by how accessible she made herself at shows, at one point calling attention to a concertgoer who was “too turnt” and needed to be escorted out for medical attention. Billie says something to the crowd to the tune of, “I need you all to be okay for me to be okay.” And we feel she means it. Throughout her show, she opens herself to hugs from loyal fans in the front-row. Her accessibility in these moments is germane to that of the documentary.

There’s so much jammed into The World’s a Little Blurry that it too can get blurry. At the center, you could argue, is the writing and recording process of her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. Billie continues to show her poise as an artist by having a vision for the imagery and music videos that will be married to the project for life. She has her mother pose for a promotional image she’s conjuring up in her head. At times, it’s as if her mind is racing so intensely that she can’t articulate the words for what she wants. The numerous asides, performances, and home-video footage can be disjointed, even cumbersome. So is the life of a teen pop sensation, I’m sure.

I found myself most moved by her interactions with Justin Bieber, her idol since she were a little girl. Billie’s mom mentions how her and her husband considered taking her to therapy over her insatiable crush on Bieber. Billie is gutsy enough to play a melodramatic video-clip of her former self, heartbroken and rambling about how if she ever were to get a boyfriend, she has serious doubts she could love him as much as she loves Justin Bieber. Their meeting is beautiful on multiple levels; most significantly the fact that Justin is blown away by Billie’s work. Imagine your celebrity idol embracing you and giving you genuine compliment-after-compliment about your creative ventures. We should all be so fortunate.

Perhaps I’ve just seen a great deal of documentaries featuring big names talking about subjects/individuals, but I was taken by the copious amount of personal footage housed in The World’s a Little Blurry. I can only imagine in 10 years from now (hell, maybe five), Billie is going to cringe so hard she’ll pull a muscle watching her old self react to certain situations. Undoubtedly, she’ll have choice words for the scumbag boyfriend she keeps around far too long throughout the doc despite him keeping her at a distance. You don’t have to be a fan of Billie’s music to be entranced by Cutler’s footage nor the hypnotic performances interjected in the documentary. Here’s hoping Billie’s parents keep her grounded, she herself retains some level of privacy (the best she can, of course), and her next doc isn’t akin to Britney Spears’.

NOTE: Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry is now available to stream on Apple TV+.

Grade: B

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7VHYBkCbF4 [/embedyt]