Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry

 

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Billie Eilish makes for fascinating company in an epic documentary on her life so far.

 

Billie Eilish The World's a Little Blurry

I Am Billie: Billie Eilish

  

One cannot begin to overestimate the phenomenon that is Billie Eilish. Aged just eighteen years (and one month), she took home five Grammy Awards in one go, only the second artist in history to do so. Last Sunday she won two more Grammys, for Record of the Year (‘Everything I Wanted’) and for Best Song written specifically for a visual medium (TV, film, video games, etc), both of which she co-wrote with her brother Finneas O'Connell. Apparently, they cooked up the latter on a bus in Texas and recorded it in Finneas’ bedroom. The song, ‘No Time to Die’, was meant to open the twenty-fifth James Bond film last April. Even so, it went straight to the top of the UK charts. Her debut studio album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019), also hit No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. And with 73 million followers on Instagram, the blue-eyed, green-haired mouthpiece for teenage angst isn’t going away anytime soon.

 

Most music-themed bio-documentaries, like Asif Kapadia’s Amy, Lili Fini Zanuck’s Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars and Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney, tend to leave one in a state of shock. But Billie Eilish Pirate O’Connell is a gentler beast. She still lives at home with her parents and her dog Pepper and at the end of R.J. Cutler’s 141-minute, fly-on-the-wall documentary she counts her blessings. She acknowledges the love and support of her family, the adoration of her fans, the trail of glittering prizes, her slick black Dodge Challenger and, admits in a moment of grateful immodesty, “…I am pretty.” She has everything to live for. So why would anybody want to share her privileged little dream world for such an extended running time? R.J. Cutler, who previously directed critically acclaimed documentaries on Anna Wintour and John Belushi, certainly knows his craft. Like Nathan Grossman’s I Am Greta, this is an intimate diary of a teenage girl thrust into the international spotlight. And the art of both Cutler and Grossman is to appear invisible to their respective subjects, yet always being in the right place at the right time. While Eilish has her causes – animal rights and veganism – she appears to be a more self-centred individual, and flies around the planet at the drop of a contract. But she’s a better singer-songwriter than Greta Thunberg, and it’s her talent that drives the documentary.

 

Her breathy vocals, infectious hooks and profound candour make for disarming cinema. And with the wisdom of youth, her words have engaged a generation, a fan base she describes as being an extended part of her psyche. Pre-lockdown we see oceans of young, tear-stained female faces staring up at the stage behind glowing iPhones. Indeed, this is a lachrymose epic. She meets a handsome Englishman who takes her in his arms and whispers, “this is the universe.” Later, when she discovers that that Orlando Bloom fellow is Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, she goes mental. But the big moment is saved for her introduction to her teenage idol, Justin Bieber. They have already become friends via cell phone, but when they first meet – recorded for posterity – it is a true Richard Curtis conceit. He removes his face mask, embraces her and doesn’t let go. It’s an instance of celebrity alchemy, like when Chopin met Liszt. There are also disagreements with her parents, an extended rant in New York – about the pressure of always having to be “on” – and unguarded moments on the phone with her ‘secret’ boyfriend, the rapper Brandon ‘Q’ Adams. Whatever one thinks of Billie Eilish – her polychromatic hair, bag-lady wardrobe and occasionally bizarre pronouncements – she makes for fascinating company. Home-schooled, incapacitated by HSD (hypermobility spectrum disorder) and indubitably talented, she is the troubled, articulate voice of her generation.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Featuring  Billie Eilish, Finneas O'Connell, Maggie Baird, Patrick O'Connell, Brandon ‘Q’ Adams, Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande.

 

Dir R.J. Cutler, Pro R.J. Cutler, Anthony Seyler, Trevor Smith, Chelsea Dodson, Michelle An, Jay Peterson, Todd Lubin and Mark DiCristofaro, Screenplay R.J. Cutler, Ph Jenna Rosher, Ed Lindsay Utz and Greg Finton, Music Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell.

 

Interscope Films/The Darkroom/Boat Rocker Media/Matador Content/Machine/Lighthouse Media & Management-Apple TV+.

141 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 26 February 2021. Available on AppleTV+. Cert. 15.