Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry offers a raw pop-star confessional: Review
There's a much-documented moment about midway through Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry when the movie's subject — fresh off the Coachella stage she's just headlined, in support of a monster debut album that would go on to spawn four multiplatinum singles and win an astonishing six Grammys — gets the chance to meet her hero.
But when he approaches she's so mutely overwhelmed by his presence that she can't speak, or even look him in the eye. So Justin Bieber, the idol of her 12-year-old dreams and now a wise elder statesman of 25, pulls her into a long, swaying bear hug while crowds scream and camera-phone lights flash, gently petting her hair as she cries.
It's a surreal scene, a wild confluence of fame and fandom that doubles and then triples back on itself like an ouroboros of Gen-Z celebrity. But also, for all the noise and hysteria surrounding them, a genuinely sweet one — and a startling reminder at the same time of how much has changed since Bieber first burst onto the world just over a decade ago, a candy-glossed, carefully managed product of the mid-aughts pop industrial complex.
Eilish, as nearly anyone with a car radio or an internet connection knows by now, is the smoky-voiced teenage wunderkind who wrote and recorded her entire first album, 2019's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? with her older brother Phinneas in his childhood bedroom. Now 19 and a millionaire many times over, she still lives in the same modest Los Angeles ranch house with her parents and assorted pets; it's unclear if topping the charts of some 25 countries thrills her more or less than getting her learner's permit, since both happen on-screen at approximately the same time.
Footage of moments like that are part of the unusual access Eilish and her family have given to documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler for Blurry (on AppleTV+ Feb. 26), and his unhurriedness with the material early on may be a high bar for non-fans to haul themselves over; the first 30 minutes or so have the casual, almost willfully unformed quality of a home movie.
But as her success spikes exponentially, so does the film's momentum, shifting toward the more familiar touchstones of a traditional music doc: The smear of foreign cities seen through a town-car window; the endless roundelay of interviews, meet-and-greets, and promo signings. Everyone tells Billie she is wonderful and brilliant and amazing; very few people ask if she's okay. A boy named Q, seemingly spooked or just unmoved by the hugeness of it all, breaks her heart.
What Eilish does have in the eye of this fame hurricane is her mom and dad, who appear to be spectacularly normal humans, and her brother, who serves as her constant creative partner and emotional support system. Also the brutal honesty — she freely confesses to crippling self-doubt and depressive episodes — that she wears like an open book (literally; more than once, she bares her personal journals to the camera).
It's that emotional bloodletting, and the hot-knife precision with which she pours those feelings into three-minute pop songs, that clearly connects with her massive audience. So does her persona: goofy, sardonic, incurably unfiltered. Cutler (The War Room, The September Issue) falls a little too in love with certain scenes that slow the film's pace, and his fly-on-the-wall approach — no narration, no interstitial talking heads — leaves some basics of her biography (like how exactly her extremely atypical entry into the music industry came to be) unexplored.
Still, there's always Wikipedia for that, and what remains is a fascinating if occasionally frustrating portrait of a remarkable young artist attempting to live out her own idea of radical honesty in an era of endless information and relentless image-shaping; a singular "Stars! They're just like us" story for this very modern age. Grade: B+
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