There’s nothing quite like watching your favourite music artist stay true to their ambitious vision and subsequently shoot to the moon on a rocket-fuelled by universal adulation. The latest film from award-winning documentarian R.J. Cutler captures that experience first-hand in a way that is equally as raw and unpretentious as its on-screen subject.
Billie Eilish at age nineteen has reached the stratospheric heights of fame and popularity through her music and unique visual stylings which not only entertain but exude the kind of vulnerability one would expect from a teenager juggling her career with the kind of anxiety and ponderous questions that tend to overwhelm us all both during and beyond adolescence. It's that type of vulnerability that has been key to her success and what makes the two-plus hours of this verité-style documentary a brilliantly authentic introduction to the human and the support network behind a generational talent. A talent unearthed at age thirteen when Billie's brother posted a song they had written for a dance recital to the internet.
That home recording of 'Ocean Eyes' is just one of the many clips of family home videos spliced with RJ Cutler's footage that fortuitously captured the rise of a star from late 2018 through Eilish's historic Grammys success in 2020. Go Pro's document the creative process within her family's Los Angeles home studio which leads to the much-celebrated sophomore album 'When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?' The work of spooky-sibling telepathy between Eilish and her exceptionally talented older-sibling Finneas O'Connell. A traditional camera crew follow Eilish on tour around the world and her ever-present parents document the typical teenage milestones and creative differences between their son and daughter.
I was a fan of Billie's and Finneas's before, I am now as much a fan of their mom Maggie Baird and father Patrick O'Connell. The two ever-present parents pride for their children radiates the screen and their protective instincts leave a measure of reassurance to anyone with the first-hand experience of an industry fraught with potential dangers. In one scene Billie is sat alongside her publicist discussing the potential pitfalls of making broad anti-drug statements early on as a public figure only for her mom to chime in "Are you actually not going to let her be authentic to who she is now, in case she grows up to do drugs?."
Another stand-out scene sees father Patrick channel Richard Linklaters 'Boyhood' as he talks to the camera shortly after his daughter sets off on her first car ride. "We live in denial. You can't think too hard, or you won't let her do anything. I had a drink of something and I completely choked on it. I had water the other day and it came out of my nose, my eyes welled up and I think it's remarkable that we stay alive at all. We're this delicate system. You have to have faith and do your best. Live your best life and then you have to live in denial."
There is relatability on show interweaved with the unpredictable nature of superstardom not often given screen time or column inches; the joy of touring juxtaposed with the fear of not being missed by those left behind. The quiet backstage disappointment with a self-perceived sub-par performance. The breaking down of a body and the constant reminder of a passion shelved out of necessity. The pressure put on an individual to save face and not let that mask slip for a moment. Love loss and depression. This film tackles all this and more.
More importantly 'The World's A Little Blurry' offers compassion and empathy toward fandom. Billie Eilish explains early on how she feared that her love for her idol and fellow pop-superstar Justin Bieber would ruin any romantic life going forward, worried no-one could live up to him. So worried was her mother that she considered taking Billie to therapy. Fast forward to April 2019 and after having played one of the main stages at Coachella on the back of her debut album topping charts around the world, she is faced with her adolescent crush only to break down for a full 30 seconds. At that moment she could just have easily been any one of the millions of fans that idolise her. That is why she is so real to so many.
Billie Eilish: The World's A Little Blurry joins Apple TV+ and select US cinemas on 26th February.