'The World's a Little Blurry' Makes Billie Eilish a Little Clearer Directed by R.J. Cutler
Published Feb 25, 2021How's this for an exercise in contrast: just a couple of weeks ago, the documentary Framing Britney Spears examined the powerlessness of one of the biggest Millennial pop stars. And now, here's Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry, a film about another teen sensation that paints the opposite portrait. The documentary is an exploration of a youngster who, by all appearances, is in full control of her own career. She records in her brother Finneas O'Connell's bedroom, maps out her music videos shot-for-shot, and fights back whenever anyone dares to interfere with her songwriting.
The World's a Little Blurry documents Billie Eilish's rise to fame, from the making of her 2019 debut album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? through the subsequent tour. Along the way, she conquers the Grammys and becomes Gen Z's biggest pop star while also going through some decidedly normal teen shit: getting her driver's license, struggling through a fraught relationship with a flakey (now ex-) boyfriend, and bickering with her loving parents.
Director R.J. Cutler mostly pieces together the film from fly-on-the-wall clips, an unglamorous style that feels more like a random collection of home movies than a narrative documentary. And that's a good thing — there aren't any traditional talking heads, just glimpses into the singer's everyday life. It's not always fully flattering: Eilish sulks and pouts, there are shots of her tics from Tourette syndrome, and she bickers with her mom about not wanting to talk to "fucking randos" backstage. There's a moment where she meets Orlando Bloom and then instantly looks up his paparazzi dick pics online.
Most crucially, The World's a Little Blurry normalizes and humanizes Eilish. She's talented, but acknowledges that her brother is the better songwriter; she gushes about her boyfriend despite their clearly unhealthy relationship; she's close with her family, but becomes increasingly prickly as her star rises. Unlike fawning puff pieces, such as recent Shawn Mendes or Coldplay documentaries, the film makes you feel like you're glimpsing the real Billie Eilish. What else do you want from a music doc?
There's obviously some narrative sleight of hand going on. In particular, the film glosses over the years between the 2016 debut single "Ocean Eyes" and 2019's LP — a time that was likely full of major label scheming and A&R executives with dollar signs in their eyes. And there's no mention whatsoever that Finneas was a moderately successful teen actor from Glee and Modern Family, or that mother Maggie Baird was an actor who appeared in shows like The X-Files and Six Feet Under. By omitting that Eilish comes from a showbiz family, Cutler reinforces the (possibly inaccurate) sense that she's a normal kid who just happened to get thrust into the spotlight.
Amidst Billie's rise to fame, the film's most striking moment is actually one that involves a different pop star: Eilish's childhood idol Justin Bieber, who guests on a remix of the single "Bad Guy" before an IRL meeting at Coachella. We see Eilish initially overcome with shyness, then sobbing in Bieber's arms, and then later huddled around a phone with her family as she reads a thoughtful DM from the Biebs (who clearly sees Billie as the successor to his teen pop crown). Bieber appears as almost a god-like elder statesman, despite being only 25 at the time, and in that moment, Eilish seems to have a realization: that her fans look at her with the same awe she holds for Bieber.
Maybe, a decade from now, Eilish will act as a mentor for the next teen pop star. Until then, The World's a Little Blurry makes her journey a little clearer. (Apple)