Apple TV+’s Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry traces the music sensation’s rise to fame, without falling prey to the usual music doc cliches.
When Billie Eilish met with director R.J. Cutler to discuss her documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, she had an odd request: “I want it to be like The Office.” Eilish, known to be a stan of the NBC comedy (she sampled dialogue from the show in her song “my strange addiction”), wanted to drop the audience into the world of her and her family as she rises from a 13-year-old viral video sensation to a 18-year-old Grammy winner. Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry is an epic journey of the on and offstage life of the musical prodigy.
The documentary opens with a glance at the homemade video of Eilish singing “ocean eyes” that launched then 13-year-old Eilish into viral celebrity fame. From there Eilish and older brother/collaborator Finneas O’Connell write hits in his childhood bedroom in a modest Los Angeles house. In between creating hit songs, they goof around like any brother/sister pair. Such playful antics like Eilish taking out her Invisalign, end up on her debut studio album “WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO.” This portrait of a relatively happy and stable family seems far removed from the Eilish crying black liquid in the music video for “when the party’s over.”
In the documentary, we get to see that Eilish is just like any other teenager. She gets her learner’s permit. She washes her car with the help of her father Patrick O’Connell. She has a relentless crush on Justin Bieber. She endures the butterflies and heartbreak of young love. She also speaks candidly about her struggles with Tourettes, anxiety, and depression, hefty issues that would weigh on anyone, especially a teen popstar under the scrutiny of the public eye. With all the lows that come with the angsty teen years, there are some perks, such as Eilish collaborating with her childhood crush Bieber on a remix of her hit song “bad guy.” Celebs, they’re (almost) just like us.
Director R.J. Cutler, known for documentaries like The September Issue, The War Room, and most recently, Belushi, is an interesting choice to helm the film. How close can a middle-aged male director get to the teenage Eilish? Cutler made the right choice to lead in with the intimate family-shoot cell phone videos, perhaps a nod to the opening credits of The Office, which utilized footage shot by John Krasinski. These “homemade” moments lead us into an intimate space and prepare to guide us to the more professionally-shot scenes as the documentary progresses.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry is an epic journey of the on and offstage life of the musical prodigy.
For the most part, Culter is an observer, a fly on the wall in the room with a world-famous pop star. He gives Eilish her own Jim Halpert moments, smirking at the camera as her mother tries to talk with her about an anti-drug/anti-alcohol theme in her song. Cutler also peppers the occasional confessionals and asides with Eilish and her family members. When Eilish gets her driver’s license, she wants to celebrate by driving to a friend’s house. After Eilish pulls out of the driveway, her father talks to the camera, wrestling with the fact that his daughter is growing up despite the fact her “childhood” was less than normal. You realize that fame didn’t just happen to Eilish – it happened to her entire family.
The documentary clocks in at around 2 hours 21 minutes, even containing an intermission. Sure there could have been some tightening and trimming, but then again, Eilish has accomplished quite a bit in a relatively short time. At 18, she made history when she swept four main Grammy categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist). Why not let her have this epic-length film to document the process?
With the recent release of Framing Britney Spears, there’s a discussion to be had about the music industry’s explotative behavior of female stars. Eilish appears to have a team around her that for the most part, has her best interests, although they all appear overwhelmed with the fame machine they’re operating. There’s a brief moment after a performance where Eilish has to pose for photos with, in her words, “randos.” She’s told by her mother Maggie Baird that they’re with the record label (although no one on her side seems to know who exactly these people are), and Eilish tries to get over her discomfort to pose for photo after photo. The next day Eilish sees a hateful comment on her social media about the event, and vents her frustration at her team and her mother. They apologize, realizing they let her down in that moment. While it’s great to see her team acknowledge their failure, it’s still heartbreaking to see that Eilish had to get to a breaking point for that apology.
The documentary wraps up with an 18-year-old Eilish celebrating her birthday, ready to move from teen to independent adult. One way to exercise that independence? Becoming a director of her music video for “everything I wanted.” The awkward glances at the camera are replaced with giddy smiles as Eilish sees her vision come to life. Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry might have thrown us all into the hazy life of a famous pop star, but it ends with a confident woman seeing things more clearly, confidently pursuing her artistic endeavors as we all tune in.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry premieres on Apple TV+ February 26th.