The older brother and the parents are in the cozy family kitchen — notes taped to the refrigerator, a cute/kitschy clock on the wall, books and cat figurines atop the cupboards — as the brother and mom discuss how his younger sister is dragging her heels on the siblings’ musical project. Bro and mom understand the song should be accessible and mainstream, but how do they convince little sis to get onboard?
“I don’t see how you’re going to get through this without telling her,” says Mom. “You can’t trick her into writing a song —”
Enter the sister. “Y’all talking about me?”
Mom: “Maybe you could experiment with trying to make something that you still like but maybe is a little more conventional or accessible …”
“Huh?” comes the reply. “What are the words you’re using though? I don’t understand…Did [my brother] come in here and belittle my idea of a song that I wrote, that he was trying to turn into something else because it’s ‘not for everyone’? Is that what happened?”
This intimate bit of drama is framed as if we’re watching a typical middle-class American family having a passionate discussion about a school project — but this is the O’Connell family, and the older brother is Finneas Baird O’Connell, soon to be Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter, musician and producer, and the younger sister is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell, known to the world as Billie Eilish, and the moment in question is a slice of real life in the Apple TV+ documentary “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry,” which captures Eilish’s whirlwind life from 2018 into 2020.
Even though Eilish has been a ubiquitous presence on the pop culture landscape for the last few years, this movie serves as an intimate and revealing filmed document as the accomplished director R.J. Cutler (“The War Room,” “Listen to Me, Marlon,” “Belushi”) and his crew are camera-operating flies on the wall for what seems like every waking minute of Eilish’s life as she skyrockets to stardom and navigates the sometimes choppy waters of audio and video recording sessions, a rocky romance, the pressures of global superstardom for a teenager, life on the road — and time at home with her family.
Eilish’s debut studio album was titled, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” For her, the answer might well be: We go to the only place where I’m not on camera.
In the span of a little more than five years (starting when she was 13), Eilish has become only the second person and the youngest in history to win Grammys in the four main categories, has sold millions of records and has become an Influencer of the highest order, from her astonishingly beautiful and brooding electropop music to her admirable openness about coping with depression to her activism, to her fashion statements. The film captures full performances of some of Eilish’s signature hits, glimpses Billie and Finneas as they make music in Finneas’ cramped bedroom, and follows Eilish as she tours the world, greeted by adoring fans (many of them girls about Billie’s age) who scream when they spot a glimpse of her and know the words to every song and are often moved to tears while singing along with their idol.
“I don’t think of them as fans, ever,” says Eilish. “They’re not my fans, they’re like, part of me.” Later, onstage, she says: “You guys need to be f---ing OK cuz you are all the reason I’m OK!”
Is she OK? Eilish is admirably open in discussing her depression and her Tourette’s, and while she seems remarkably mature at times for someone who can’t leave the house without getting mobbed, someone whose every word and deed is scrutinized under the microscope of Judgmental Social Media, there are times when she seems overwhelmed. We feel a parental ache for Billie as she goes through the heartbreak of an unhealthy relationship. We’re alarmed by handwritten notebook entries such as, “I am a void, the epitome of nothing,” some disturbing artwork in the notebooks and Billie’s talk of self-harming in her early teen years. After one performance, Eilish sits nearly motionless, beating herself up for mistakes, and her mother says, “I wish you could feel what we felt.”
The film also does a fine job of capturing the dichotomy of Billie’s life as her star ascends. She’s the center of attention when playing in front of tens of thousands of fans, shooting music videos, doing meet-and-greets with scores of fawning middle-aged radio and record execs, etc., but her 17th birthday party is at a skating rink, her dad patiently and carefully advises her before she takes her first solo drive in her car, and when the family celebrates Grammy nods for her and Finneas, she says, not unkindly, “I am nominated for six Grammys and we are still in the same stupid little backyard!”
Though Finneas, now 22, has since moved out, one understands exactly why Billie and Finneas continued to live with their parents in their modest home in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was the safest space in the world for them.