REVIEW: ‘Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry’ is a vulnerable portrait of a young superstar

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Billie Eilish, right, performs with her brother Finneas O’Connell as depicted in “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry”

Fresh off the success of his most recent documentary “Belushi” (which, as the title implies, chronicled the life of iconic yet troubled comedy legend John Belushi) director R.J. Cutler is showing no signs of slowing down, following up one deeply intimate documentary with another. Cutler’s latest film, “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” is an emotional, vulnerable and gripping portrait of a superstar in her rise to monumental stardom at a painfully tender age.

Though two and a half hours is a big ask for any film — let alone a documentary about a pop star — the film’s emotional poignancy and airtight pacing make what could’ve been a 2+ hour drag into a roller coaster and one of the most effective music documentaries in recent memory.

Beginning with the writing process for her critically acclaimed debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and following her journey through the album’s production, the subsequent tour, and concluding with her record-breaking sweep at the 2020 Grammy awards, the documentary is a first-person account of Eilish’s creative process, rise to fame,  journey toward adulthood, relationship drama and struggles with mental illness, all wrapped up into one.

What’s so striking about both Eilish herself and “The World’s a Little Blurry” is just how much there is to be documented in such a short career. Eilish first achieved widespread success with her song “Ocean Eyes,” which she released at the age of 13, and the documentary makes no attempt to shy away from shining a light on the difficulties surrounding ascension to fame at such a young age. “The World’s a Little Blurry” feels especially poignant given its timely release within weeks of Hulu’s “Framing Britney Spears,” another documentary covering a pop star who achieved widespread success — and criticism — as a teenager.

Thankfully, Eilish didn’t have to endure the kind of abuse and trauma Spears did — although she certainly has had her fair share of difficulties, many of which take center stage in “The World’s a Little Blurry.” Cutler emphasizes the importance of Eilish’s family as a support system in both her personal life and artistic career.

Famously, Eilish and her brother Finneas (who produces all of her music) made her first album  in Finneas’ bedroom in their childhood home., And even after Eilish is a multi-millionaire attending awards shows with a Tesla in the driveway, she and the rest of her family still live in the same house – the perfect testament to the grounded, open, and honest relationship they have with each other and Billie’s success. 

Eilish’s connection to her roots and the significance of family is a core theme throughout the film — externalized by charming, eccentric visuals like Eilish’s mother Maggie Baird washing Billie’s expensive designer clothes in the washing machine in the backyard, mixing them in with the rest of the family’s laundry.

Much of the documentary’s runtime is dedicated to illustrating this constant interconnectedness Eilish has with her family and her humble roots. Intermixed with Eilish selling out shows, headlining tours, and breaking records, there are small, incredibly endearing moments that remind the audience of how young and human she is — like Eilish getting her driver’s license, or her parents worrying over whether or not she has “Find My iPhone” enabled when she goes out of the house.

But as endearing as those small moments of her family’s love and refreshing grounded-ness are, “The World’s a Little Blurry” also serves as the portrait of a talented young artist plagued by self-doubt, external pressures, depression, anxiety, and a crippling fear of failure. As incredibly talented as she is, a through-line of “The World’s a Little Blurry” is Eilish’s reluctance to perform, make public appearances or even write songs, for fear that she’ll be criticized or let her fans down.

The advent of social media has completely changed the way we treat celebrities, but for a young woman of Eilish’s age, the constant awareness of the power of social media is crippling — Eilish herself admits that she’s afraid to write a song and put herself out there because she doesn’t want the internet to make fun of it.

Conversely, Eilish also has an incredible intelligence and fierceness on display — and a strong artistic sense of self and a definite aesthetic that is very apparent in her music. There are several moments in the documentary where Eilish injures herself in the throes of a performance and then asks to cancel her shows — not because she doesn’t want to perform while in pain, but because she doesn’t want to give her audience a show that’s anything less than her best.

For a performer so young, Eilish has a powerful understanding of her own creative ability — creating concepts for photoshoots, directing music videos, and of course, writing her music — all completely on her own terms, all functioning as self-expression rooted in her innermost thoughts and feelings.

Though it isn’t explicitly discussed until the film’s final few minutes (and even then, the subject isn’t delved into with extreme depth) Eilish’s struggles with her mental health haunt “The World’s a Little Blurry,” often because of the sheer rawness of the filmmaking on display. Much of the documentary makes use of home footage, cell phone recordings and other chronicles her family captured during Eilish’s rise to stardom, and because of the casual intimacy and the lack of a need to be “on” while at home, it gives way to a very open, honest and vulnerable look at Billie and her inner turmoil.

From her journal full of lyrics and drawings to her obsession with Justin Bieber to her first heartbreak at the hands of her boyfriend 7: AMP, the closeness with which Cutler gets to Billie’s actual thoughts and feelings is an incredible feat — and allows for the audience to have a deep-rooted understanding of how an incredible young artist ticks.