Billie Eilish Documentary Assessment: An Unfocused Have a look at the Pop Star
I am a Billie Eilish Fan. I think their music choices are fascinating, their lyrics are enigmatic yet emotionally understandable, and their visual language is so specific. But even as a fan of Eilish – and more generally as a fan of pop music – two hours and 20 minutes of a documentary is a lot to ask about her. Unfortunately, Billie Eilish: The world is a little blurry does not justify its long duration in a compelling, understandable, or specific way. At best, it’s an interesting chronicle of the creative process, the pop star apparatus, and temperature control of how our nation’s teenagers feel. In the worst case, it is like a rough assembly cut, a collection of “things” without meaning that seem to contradict a specific thesis on the topic.
Multiple award-winning documentary filmmaker RJ Cutler (Belushi) controls the world with an invisible touch a little blurry. It’s either a fly on the wall or uses footage captured by Eilish and her family, including her collaborating brother, songwriter / producer / cast member FINNEAS. With this unadorned, simple style, we observe all sorts of things in the breakout part of Eilish’s career, from the recordings of her debut album When we all sleep where do we go?, to the struggles that arise when pushing your body through constant touring, to multiple Grammy wins and Justin Bieber FaceTimes that break Eilish into tears. Cutler (and the Eilish family) cameras capture hand-held, apparently digital, undisturbed images of all of these moments, rough edges and everything. But what happens when a movie is completely rough and nothing is at the core?
In Cutler’s favor, this raw approach sometimes hits fascinating nerves. It’s engaging, fascinating and at times frustrating to watch the Eilish and FINNEAS creative process go on in real time, especially for people who love the album. Both siblings get away like legitimate brats in one second and sensitive soul-seekers the next. It’s especially interesting to see how her intimate, homemade, literal production style in the bedroom instantly violates the obligation to “be a giant pop star.” It is an emotional journey to see Eilish recreate the experience of writing a song on her bed on a huge stage in front of thousands of people. Cutler’s tendency to keep the camera rolling means people keep talking, an approach that’s especially important to hearing Eilish’s parents. Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connelloffer their perspectives not only on Eilish’s superstar, but also on her status as a normal teenager. It’s important to note that the majority of this documentary was shot by Eilish before the age of 18, and the film’s depictions of an inherently tense youth versus the superstar’s surreality are among the most powerful and interesting moments.
Image via Apple TV +
But after the film finds those moments, it has no idea what to do with them, no idea how to arrange them in a meaningful order, no idea what to say about its subject. I can understand this free-running, elliptical approach to filmmaking as an attempt at subjectivity, as an attempt to exist out of the POV of Eilish herself, who is still figuring out her life clearly, her status as a public figure who cannot fail, you Growth as a young adult. But this attempt reveals to Eilish herself, which feels especially weird considering how much of the movie is spent watching Eilish master her creative vision with authority and respect (she’s a great music video director!) And the adults to admonish in her life that she has let her down (After a particularly emotional performance, she is attacked by several record managers without anyone protecting her.
When Eilish talks about her songwriting process, she says she isn’t interested in making a focused statement. She just talks roughly and bluntly about how she feels. She later finds out she made a retrospective statement: “What I love because I didn’t know it was me.” This film lets Eilish speak and speak for two hours and 20 minutes and does not use the second half of what she needs. It doesn’t merge into one statement, it doesn’t give it the context or shape it needs to shine, and it’s nothing essential except for the most complete Eilish fan (a strange thing she’s given fame right now only on).
To compare it to another documentary about a mega pop star, Taylor Swift‘s Miss Americana runs for only 85 minutes. At the end of his deliberate story, I immediately wanted to revisit all of Swift’s music. At the end of The World’s a Little Blurry’s messy story attempts, all I needed was a break.
Image via Apple TV +
Billie Eilish: The world is a little blurry comes to Apple TV + February 26th.
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About the author
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Gregory Lawrence (aka Greg Smith) is a writer, director, performer, songwriter, and comedian. He is Associate Editor for Collider and has written for Shudder, CBS, Paste Magazine, Guff, Smosh, Obsev Studios, and others. He loves pizza and the Mortal Kombat movie. More information is available at www.smithlgreg.com
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