When filmmaker R.J. Cutler was first invited to a meet-and-greet with Billie Eilish a couple of years ago, his reaction was pretty muted. Though he was flattered he’d been asked to consider making a documentary film about the young star, Cutler had agreed to a meeting mainly because it was just a short distance away from his house. He wasn’t exactly in the teen musician’s core demo, but he didn’t see the harm in going.
Billie Eilish in “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry,” premiering globally February 26, 2021 on Apple TV+.
“I knew the lead paragraph, but I didn’t know much beyond that,” the American director (The September Issue and American High) admits over Zoom. But it took Cutler only a few minutes to realize he had been quick to judge. “I was immediately very intrigued and very curious. If I can imagine spending a year filming someone, that’s a good thing. And it doesn’t happen a lot,” he explains. “Meeting her and Finneas and their folks was so real and organic. She’s brilliant and so compelling.”
Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell on stage.
And that’s exactly what Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry, which premieres on Apple TV+ on February 26, is: A genuinely authentic coming-of-age story movie about a generational talent who cannot be anything but her truest self. Supplemented with intimate archival footage shot by the family, the film follows Eilish, now 19, as she records her debut LP, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, alongside her brother/producer-collaborator Finneas in their family home, all while the teen navigates touring, global superstardom and adolescence. When watching the film, which is intercut with clips of frenzied fans moved to the point of tears, it’s impossible not to see what they see in Eilish; what Cutler also saw in that initial meeting.
Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.
Eilish had a clear vision for what she wanted a doc about her life to look and feel like: The Office. (The singer-songwriter is a notorious fan of the U.S. iteration.) “My reaction in the moment to her saying that was: ‘She knows that The Office was scripted, right?’” Cutler recalls with a smile. “Of course she does, that’s not what she meant. But The Office is the story of people having their lives filmed in a very real way.”
Cutler soon realized what Eilish meant conceptually. Even if you haven’t seen an episode of the sitcom, you’ll likely have seen one of the many memeified moments involving John Krasinski’s Jim Halpert breaking the fourth wall and glancing at the camera. While Cutler’s doc is very observational — there are no sit-down interviews in its entire two-hour and 21-minute runtime — there are a couple of key moments where Eilish pulls her own Jim Halpert and stares right into the camera. “That’s what she wanted,” Cutler says, explaining that he realized these were true Billie moments, allowing her to slyly exhibit self-awareness at just the right time. “That’s the nature of her relationship with her audience, and I loved that helpful insight she’d given me because I wanted the movie to reflect that.”
Watching Eilish in action with her family, it all makes sense. They’re just as open and honest as she is, and their connection is palpable through the screen. There are countless moments: Her family reacting emotionally as they watch her interact with childhood idol Justin Bieber; her mom, Maggie Baird, owning up to a mistake during one tough meet-and-greet; Finneas, ever the older brother, expressing his frustration to his mother during an onerous songwriting session and Billie sliding into the kitchen somehow both annoyed and bemused saying, “Are you guys talking about me?” And they do all of it with joy. “Laughter is a very important part of their success. It goes beyond connecting through humour for them, they can be in a fight and transcend it with laughter,” Cutler says. “That’s why I made this film. Even without the career, even without the artistry, there’s just a deeply real resonance in their dynamic. And that’s very exciting.”
Billie Eilish and R.J. Cutler at the Live Premiere Performance in Los Angeles.
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