Every band doc or pop star tour diary claims to show fans the ‘real’ version of their idol. We get backstage access and never-before-seen interviews – maybe even a teary late-night DMC – but what films like Jonas Brothers: Chasing Happiness or Taylor Swift‘s Miss Americana really display is a carefully curated image, sanitised of scandal and shot through a commercial lens. In The World’s A Little Blurry, Billie Eilish gives an alternative to the at-arms-length music movie – taking us deep inside her teenage (and often troubled) brain.
Filmed over the course of three years, director R.J. Cutler’s intimate offering is a real-life coming-of-age story, complete with family arguments, birthday parties and adolescent breakups. Cutler has form here: his Emmy-winning American High series tracked the experiences of 14 millennial students at a school in Illinois. And while the hyper-anxious, always-online Gen Z mindset differs greatly, Cutler’s new documentary takes a similarly linear and open approach.
We start at Eilish’s parents’ house in Highland Park, Los Angeles, where most of the first half of the movie takes place. It’s 2018 and 16-year-old Eilish is busy writing songs in her brother Finneas’ bedroom. They laugh, bicker and hug as the tunes come together – their parents supplying advice from across the house or while stood in the doorway. Later, grown-men record execs and hangers on cram (comically, it has to be said) into corners while the siblings play snippets of tracks from Finneas’ computer. As Eilish’s debut album coalesces – and she gets deeper in bed with the label – more and more people want input on the music, and you sense her frustration.
The film then jumps into a whirlwind montage of live shows, interviews and hotel room recording sessions. As Billie’s fame and popularity grow, her isolation increases – not from family members (whose support never wanes) but friends, who appear infrequently, and boyfriend ‘Q’ aka rapper 7: AMP. This is partly because she’s always away on tour, but Q’s behaviour also comes into question. During one flashpoint scene, Eilish has just come off stage at Coachella and is upset with her performance. Q, raving it up elsewhere on site, fails to show up backstage and Billie is left to commiserate on her own. They split up soon after.
These emotional difficulties are compounded by Billie’s ongoing injuries (shin splints, a recurring hip injury) which require constant medical attention and even affect her electric performances. By the second half of the film, it’s clear the hectic schedule is getting a bit much – but turning to other celebs (Katy Perry at Coachella, Justin Bieber via Instagram and a post-Grammys FaceTime) affords Eilish some much-needed understanding from those who’ve been through the same meteoric rise.
Eventually, Billie reaches a better place – and learns to cope more easily with life as the most talked-about teen on the planet. However, many will question the wisdom of allowing a clearly-struggling teenager to be followed around 24/7 by a film crew. On the other hand, Eilish’s willingness to talk about subjects like mental health and her own Tourette’s syndrome may prove invaluable to young fans.
Despite a hefty chunk being dedicated to Billie’s personal life, the film’s best moments focus on music. It’s fascinating to watch the genesis of mega-hits like ‘Bad Guy’ – crafted from the leftovers of an early track – or listen in as Billie blocks the ‘When The Party’s Over’ video in her back garden, her mum standing in as a model. These little clips serve as a reward for Billie’s supporters, visual Easter eggs they can grin at while thinking: ‘I know what that becomes!’
And that’s who will get most out of Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry: the fans. “I don’t think of them as fans… ever,” says the neon-haired pop star in the movie’s opening few minutes. “They’re part of me.” Giving them access to her intimate thoughts and feelings – both lyrically and now through this documentary – is why they love her so much. Other artists prepping for their own films should take note.
- Director: R.J. Cutler
- Starring: Billie Eilish
- Release date: February 26 (Apple TV+)