Billie Eilish is incredible in interviews. She’s poised, thoughtful, articulate and intensely self-reflective. Half an hour into “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” (2021), the Apple TV+ original documentary charting Eilish’s recording of her debut studio album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” (2019), I was wondering, then, why the documentary didn’t seem at all interested in interviewing her. Over the course of the almost two-and-a-half-hour film, it became clear that director R. J. Cutler is more interested in showing us what’s behind all of those super-poised interviews: a teenage girl.
“The World’s a Little Blurry” follows Eilish’s meteoric rise to fame, starting when she was touring for “Don’t Smile at Me” (2017) and was beginning to record “When We All Fall Asleep” with her brother Finneas O’Connell, known mononymously as Finneas, and ending with the 62nd Grammy Awards, where she won in five categories at the age of just 18. Over the course of that period, Eilish went from performing at small venues to becoming one of the most successful artists in the world, producing a record-breaking and hauntingly honest album about the struggles of young adulthood.
The lore of Eilish’s wildly successful album is well known among fans: Eilish and Finneas wrote and recorded it in Finneas’s tiny bedroom in their parents’ home in Los Angeles. “The World’s a Little Blurry” keeps this intimacy at the core of its filmmaking style, eschewing any “Miss Americana”-style sit-down interviews to instead capture the relationship between Eilish and her family, who accompanies her on her tours around the world. Finneas and Eilish’s parents actually seem to spend more time speaking to the camera than Eilish herself, framing her career in the context of those who support her.
What this intimacy allows for is a peek behind the curtain when it comes to Eilish’s personal life and her relationship with fame. While many of her press interviews dive into the complexities of her mental health with real sincerity, they do benefit from 20/20 hindsight. Cutler’s documentary, on the other hand, is able to focus on the things that Eilish struggles with as she’s struggling with them. And, as it turns out, a lot of those struggles are much more associated with being a teenager than with fame. For example, one throughline of the film is Eilish’s getting her learner’s permit and then her driver’s license. There’s a beautiful scene where her father gives her the dad talk about driving before Eilish pulls out to drive on her own for the first time, after which her father reflects to the camera on her growing up. The car is Eilish’s dream car, a matte black Dodge Challenger, but the look on her parents’ faces as she drives away is the look of any parent when their teenager drives for the first time.
Eilish suffers from occupational hardships — she struggles with shin splints and ankle injuries for much of the film due to the physical intensity of her performances, she forgets her lyrics during a huge performance at Coachella and has to figure out how to bounce back and she and Finneas have to work on a tight deadline to record “No Time to Die” (2020) for the new James Bond film during a tour. And yet, Eilish is balancing all of this unimaginable pressure with the issues of any 17-year-old: hard breakups, fights with her family, struggles with mental health and insecurity about her singing and songwriting abilities.
As a documentary, then, “The World’s a Little Blurry” succeeds in offering us moments during which Eilish truly feels younger than she does when she’s walking on the red carpet at the Grammys. It’s important to remember that Eilish is a teenager going through a lot of the same things that any other teenager may be going through — on top of her historic musical career.