For super-fans and skeptics alike, the gripping family portrait peeks backstage as Eilish rides the roller coaster of mega-fame.
On the same day that Oscar-nominated R.J. Cutler’s Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry debuted, The New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears documentary was released to Canadian audiences. There’s a myriad of similarities between the two popstars: a rocket-fuelled rise to fame in their teens, hailing from humble beginnings, drawing tens of thousands of screaming fans at each concert.
While Spears’ story is tragic, unjust and serves as a cautionary tale of the perils of fame and the industry of celebrity, Eilish’s story bears a marked difference, her rock-solid support system. While stories of child stars with fraught parental relationships are a dime a dozen, both of Eilish’s — frankly adorable — parents would clearly do anything for her. Her equally gifted brother Finneas is also her best friend, confidante and musical partner. He shares most of the song writing credits and helms the production and composition of the Eilish machine.
In most music documentaries, the audience learns that — spoiler alert — the celebrity is actually a human being. The World’s A Little Blurry is no different.
But, Cutler does an exceptional job of taking viewers through the ups and downs of Eilish’s career thus far and really making viewers give a shit.
I found myself clapping along with fans, welling up with Eilish at her low points and flailing my arms in an attempt to dance with my upper half as I bounced along with her live performances. Cutler steps back and allows Billie’s undeniable talent and utter lovability shine through.
The film is as much a vignette of the O’Connell family dynamic as it is a curtain-pulling probe on Eilish’s world. She’s 17-years old at the time of filming, already four years into her career—hardly the typical teen experience. While viewers are treated to clips of her adrenaline-pumping performances for a fraction of the ticket price, they also feel her growing pains as she experiences her first love, fears the judgement of the internet and tries to cope with the entire world having an opinion on her existence. Perhaps pressures of being Billie Eilish are best summed up when she realizes aloud, “I literally can’t have a bad moment.”
The film spans a whopping two-and-a-half-hours, complete with an intermission — best buckle up with your comfies and a stash of your favourite snacks. Blurry opens with lo-fi home footage captured by her mom, Maggie Baird, in the early days of Eilish’s career, beginning with an Ocean Eyes performance in their garage. No doubt Mom already knew Eilish was on her way to stardom.
As the footage gradually becomes more high-def, it’s indicative of Elish’s increasing commercial success and inflating label budgets. We begin to see her life change exponentially, for better and for worse.
As Eilish and Finneas record their 2019 album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? from his cramped bedroom outfitted with nothing more than a bed, keyboard and monitors, the pair begin to feel the pressure of monetizing their art. Finneas is directed by Interscope to “write a hit,” a more commercial song than Eilish’s darkly intimate trappings. The catch is, he can’t tell Eilish or she’ll reject the idea—and she promptly does, scoffing at the notion that her music, often bluntly honest about mental health struggles, should appeal to all audiences.
Once the family embarks on tour, Eilish gives performances that range from the electrifying, as she bounces and thrashes on stage, to the haunting, as she introspectively croons atop a levitating bed while floating through a smoky absinthe dream. Though she loves her fans, thinks of them as friends even, the demands of touring life catch up with her.
Exhausted, going through a messy break up and experiencing symptoms of Tourette’s after a New York show, her team forces her to do a meet-and-greet. She later tells them to never embarrass her like that again, proving that despite her youth, she won’t be pushed around. In Milan, she sprains her ankle on stage during the first song of her set, sending her into an intense physical therapy journey and forcing her to wear an air cast on stage.
And don’t even get me STARTED on her ex-boyfriend. She gave him all-access tickets to Coachella, and he didn’t even come to her trailer after her performance to congratulate her. I found myself saying “dump his ass!!!” to the screen a few too many times.
Despite bringing the audience to tears with her Coachella set, Eilish was disappointed with it. At this point it becomes clear that no matter how fucking talented or wildly successful she is, at the end of the day she’s still a (then) 17-year-old girl, who wants to be liked, who wants to be loved, who wants to be perfect. The added pressure of pleasing her daunting 77-million Instagram followers doesn’t lighten the load. At one point, Finneas is encouraging her to belt a note in her James Bond theme song No Time To Die. She puts on a baby voice, scrunches her face and says, “I’m gonna get made fun of by the internet if I do it.”
The benefits of her fame? Meeting Justin Bieber of course. Cutler includes a home video of 12-year-old Eilish dramatically professing her love for him, gushing that she’s worried about finally getting a boyfriend because the chump simply won’t compare to her first love. When she finally meets her idol at Coachella, she can’t even look him in the eye. When she eventually does, they exchange a knowing glance—the kind that only someone whose world has also been a little blurry can understand—and she sobs in his arms. It’s a devastatingly raw moment that throws her fame into perspective; the way she reacted to Bieber is the very way her fans react to her.
Her sweet, soft-spoken mom is equally pleased by Bieber entering Eilish’s life and helping her navigate the rocky path of mega celebrity. There’s a striking clip in which she incredulously says to the camera, “I don’t know how anyone does this without a parent.”
The film certainly hammers home that it takes a village to keep someone of Eilish’s celebrity afloat. Back from touring, Eilish drives her brand-spanking new Dodge Charger with her even newer driver’s license, in one of the few scenes where we actually see her with a second to herself. In a moment of clarity. It’s evident that she’s relishing her successes and counting her blessings in light of the chaotic whir of the past few months.
“I’m nominated for six Grammys. I have my dream car. Finneas has his dream car. I had donuts last night. My relationship with my family is good. I’m famous as fuck; life is good.”
This generous documentary disproves any bratty child star or good-girl-soured-by-fame theories about Eilish. Showcasing her dedication to her art, her resilience and, of course, her humanity, it’ll turn any skeptic into a fan.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry — (Popstar documentary), 2 h, 30 min, now streaming on Apple TV+