We’ve seen pop stars come and go with varying degrees of success and pop culture impact throughout the past, but never have we seen one come in the form of Billie Eilish. The 18 year-old teenager who moodily sings of depression and angst, with the experimental sensibilities of a post-“Yeezus” genre has changed the current face of music, leading to new avenues of what top hits can look like.
Billie, living in a quiet LA home with her two parents, writes and records music with older brother/co-songwriter/music engineer Finneas all from their home. When Billie put out the haunting and melodic “Ocean Eyes” at just 14, her life quickly changed. At age 17, she has one studio album under her belt, a successful tour coming to a close and a highly anticipated new album on the way. Director RJ Cutler’s candid and highly intimate quasi-epic, Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, chronicles the hyper-acceleration of stardom that only happens once in a generation.
Documenting Billie as a star-on-the-rise to her eventually becoming a five-time Grammy winner, helming the theme for the next James Bond film (hopefully arriving sometime later this year) and a number one-selling album, Cutler explores an amalgam of ideas throughout the rather exhaustive 140 minute runtime, with largely compelling results. While the narrative is straightforward to a fault, the look into Billie’s life and her ever-evolving status as one of modern music’s most prolific, enigmatic figures is something not easily shrugged off. The intimacy in how Cutler captures Billie’s incredible journey is quite remarkable. We witness the writing and recording stages of hits such as “Xanny”, the gargantuan “Bad Guy” and more as we further understand the tight-knit relationship between Billie and Finneas. We’re also given looks into how her family deals with this level of mega-fame and still keeping their young daughter grounded.
Where Cutler finds the most poignancy in Billie’s story is when he shifts the focus to the demand of Billie as a “star” and the effects it takes on her emotionally and psychically. A sequence where Billie rolls her ankle immediately after coming on stage, leaving her to not want to even finish the show in horror that she can’t give her all to the crowd proves particularly devastating. Despite the worldwide tour, millions of streams and a blockbuster album, Billie is still a teenager at the end of the day. She crushes her Coachella performance, but feels she did horrible after a quick moment of her forgetting her own song lyrics. Any scenario with heightened anxiety triggers her Tourette’s. She also has an otherworldly love for Justin Bieber — who makes several brief, but amusing appearances.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that hardcore Billie fans will get the most mileage out of Cutler’s documentary, but for the casual viewer, the intimate exploration of an unsuspecting teenager taking over pop culture is a story that’s just too unique to resist. The 140 minute runtime strains some of the enjoyment out of this remarkable story as Cutler wraps his arms around plenty of themes, but this is an effective showcase into what the idea of celebrity looks like in the age of social media.