Directed by R. J. Cutler — Distributed by Neon / Apple TV+.
Veteran filmmaker and documentarian R. J. Cutler’s The World’s A Little Blurry is a fantastic year-in-the-life documentary about the rise to stardom for Billie Eilish, the immensely popular teenage singer-songwriter, who, in early 2019, had her debut studio album — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? — released to critical acclaim. Cutler’s film is — for the most part — a vérité documentary that allows you to experience several private moments, as well as critical moments in her — and her brother Finneas’ — creative process, as a fly-on-the-wall. It’s an eye-opening documentary epic (it even has an intermission) about the life of a somewhat anxious teenage superstar that cares deeply about her fans, precisely because she is still a fan at heart, and she knows what it’s like to need that kind of bond.
With documentaries that focus on the personality, fanbase, and stardom of a musician, there always is a chance that the films will ultimately feel hagiographical. But I don’t think that is the case here. The World’s A Little Blurry does not at all feel entirely controlled by Eilish and her agent or manager. This feels like an honest portrait of a star that has a lot of ambition but also someone who is hyperaware of any mistake she makes. There is a moment where she messes up the lyrics to one of her songs, and while everyone else backstage is complimenting her on a show the crowd clearly adored, she makes it painfully clear to us that one moment of imperfection on-stage makes her feel like a failure, even though she absolutely is not.
Scenes like that one made me think about what it must be like to grow up as a star with social media looming over you so much. For example, she gets into an argument with her mother and her management after a single comment online bothered her. But I also really like that we do get to see her being just like any other young person. We witness mood swings, a breakup, heartbreak, and arguments with her family.
But we also see her as a very talented creative mind, who has a vision for her music and her videos. She doesn’t care about conventionality or hits, much to the frustration of her brother, who knows that Interscope Records will need one. But she absolutely does care about her music videos. It is actually really interesting to watch her prepare previsualization footage for the shooting of her When the Party’s Over-music video. She reveals how frustrating it is to work with directors and with certain directing styles, shortly before we see her being frustrated by the act of shooting the music video itself, which was directed by Carlos López Estrada.
It is the film’s most human moments that I thought worked best. We learn so much about Billie Eilish in the documentary, such as the notion that, in her saddest moments, she feels broken and that she thinks she always will be. We see her struggling with involuntary tics due to her Tourettes syndrome. We see her bawl her eyes out when she meets her idol, Justin Bieber, who, it just so happens, is a big fan of hers (Justin Bieber comes across really well. It’s clear that he knows something about what she is going through.).
But perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of the documentary is the moment on-stage in which her voice cracks and she is overwhelmed by sadness while she is singing a song that, you imagine, makes her think about her recent breakup. Earlier in the documentary, Billie Eilish had told her fans that she needed them to be ‘okay,’ because without them she wouldn’t be. This breakdown on stage is really sad but it is also, in a way, magical, because it emphasizes the bond that she shares with her fans, who, after noticing that she was unable to sing the lyrics, sang in unison to help her get through the moment while Finneas, her brother, comforted her.
I think that Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas are incredibly talented, and I think Billie Eilish’s debut studio album is, frankly, incredible. I think, in a way, she is becoming the voice-of-a-generation with her songwriting, and I know that there are many fans who would agree. These fans will absolutely adore this documentary. However, on the flip-side, R. J. Cutler’s documentary perhaps isn’t as accessible for those unfamiliar with her or her music. I also think that there is no getting around the fact that the documentary is overlong and perhaps, for some, somewhat repetitive when she is on tour. Nevertheless, though, I was quite impressed by R. J. Cutler’s year-in-the-life documentary precisely because it gives you an honest and eye-opening portrait of the life of an ambitious, anxious, and extremely talented young star.
8 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.