Arts, Movies, Review

A Closer Look at Billie Eilish from Director R. J. Cutler


In 2019, pop-alternative star Billie Eilish released her album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? and took her newfound stardom to astronomical heights. That year she won five Grammys and earned several hits on the Billboard charts. The brand new, fly-on-the-wall documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry on Apple TV+ aims to show audiences exactly what being a world-famous artist is like at the age of 19. 

Unfortunately, director R.J. Cutler focuses more on concert movie clichés, such as meet and greets and global performances, rather than on who Eilish is and the messages she tries to communicate through her music. Although the movie feels dragged out for two and a half hours, there are some poignant moments of Eilish. 

She explains her deeply personal thoughts on her music and her complicated loving and working relationship with her parents and brother—who all still live under the same roof in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. But, these moments are spread too thin, failing to give audience members a vivid portrait of a teenage pop star whose popularity is largely tied to her emotional connection with a Gen Z fan base through vulnerable lyrics that tackle themes of mental health. 

The documentary attempts to place audience members next to Eilish and her brother, Finneas—who is also Eilish’s personal producer. The film shows them working on her debut album in a makeshift recording studio, which happens to be a guest bedroom in their childhood home. A camera is tucked away in the corner of the cozy bedroom filming Eilish finishing a record, as there is not enough space in the recording studio for a camera crew to be there. The audience is placed in this space—a fly on the wall to Eilish’s creative process. 

It is immediately clear that the brother-sister music duo are powerfully synced collaborators, as they are seen developing song ideas and honing their creative process throughout the film. They work as a team, and some of the most invigorating parts of the film show the progression of the two musicians creating personal art outside of the public eye. In the film, Eilish shares a book of poetry and sketches that serve as inspiration for her music, describing her battles with depression and Tourette syndrome, showing how even with commercial success at a young age, her music is still exactly that, her music.

At one point in their kitchen, Finneas admits to their parents that he is looking to make a hit—at least that’s what Interscope Records wants from him and his sister. Eilish interjects, claiming that she simply wants to make what she wants, further speaking to her desire to create something expressive of her personal experiences, even if her producer wants her to make music that’s more commercial. 

Outside of Eilish’s newfound fame, Cutler also tries to present her as a typical teenager. Throughout the film, Eilish is seen at the DMV, FaceTiming her unenthusiastic boyfriend, and eventually dealing with heartbreak before a live performance in New York. But these moments are always overshadowed by the new lavish reality Eilish now faces as a young burgeoning celebrity. 

Later on, while recording her song for the upcoming James Bond film, No Time To Die, Eilish claims that she doesn’t want to belt vocally too much out of fear of people criticizing her voice on social media. Cutler shows how despite her superstardom, Eilish still endures the trivial realities that every 17-year-old faces. 

Instead of diving into Eilish and Finneas’ creative sides, most of the film shows Eilish and her brother, accompanied by her calm and supportive mother, plowing through an exhausting global tour. Eilish’s many performances of her popular hits are intriguing but unfortunately overshadow the more interesting story of Eilish herself. 

While backstage, Cutler takes the same approach as he did in the makeshift recording studio, leaving the camera with Eilish and her team, letting the audience feel like it’s in the room with the young musician. With most scenes dedicated to the colossal amount of time Eilish spends on tour, the film fails to sustain the emotional substance found in the shots where Eilish spends time at home and with her family. 

Ultimately, viewers may be left wanting more even after the film’s long duration. Nevertheless, audiences can be left with an immense respect for both Eilish’s talents and her ability to balance her identity as a teenager and her celebrity status.

Photo Courtesy of Apple TV+

March 1, 2021