I’m trying to write the best song we’ve ever written,” the brother says. “And the most accessible.”
“That sounds stupid,” the sister replies.
He’s Finneas Baird O’Connell, and she’s Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. He’s 21, and she’s 17. They’re standing in the kitchen of their Highland Park home in Los Angeles, the same home they grew up in. The same house where they wrote and recorded their first full-length album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? On Jan. 26, 2020, the album would net the two of them seven Grammys.
But back in 2018, Billie and Finneas were still going through the rigmarole of writing the songs that would make them famous, an arduous task. Billie loves singing but hates writing. Finneas—at the behest of Interscope Records—is pushing Billie into writing a mainstream hit. Billie is pushing against any idea of altering who she is. Mom, Maggie Baird, is questioning some of Billie’s lyrics, specifically the one about jumping off a roof in “Listen Before I Go.” And all of it is captured in the documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, directed by R.J. Cutler and shot by Jenna Rosher.
Running a whopping 140 minutes with an intermission, The World’s a Little Blurry spans roughly a year in the O’Connells’ lives. From writing, recording, and releasing When We All Fall Asleep to the world tour that followed and the capstone Grammy ceremony. The first half of the doc is a unique look into the process of writing and rewriting those songs, of Billie pre-visualizing a music video in her backyard with Mom as a stand-in, while the second half shows how the pop star sausage is made: Public relations to private relationships and everything in between.
You could say that Cutler and Rosher take a vérité approach by observing without interfering, but Billie is having none of it. She frequently acknowledges the camera by verbally addressing it, winking at it, and performing for it. She treats it like a fan, and Billie loves her fans. Her music may sound depressing—which Mom defends in an interview by pointing out, “The world’s a depressing place”—but a Billie Eilish concert is anything but. A former dancer before injuries sidelined her, Billie puts on one hell of a show. The energy is high, and the catharsis is palpable.
That’s where The World’s a Little Blurry starts to tip into self-parody. Cutler seems endlessly fascinated by Billie and so spends every minute he can watching her. Many of these moments either feel unnecessary—the entire Justin Bieber story brings the movie to a grinding halt. Some even feel like outtakes from This Is Spinal Tap. At Coachella, technical difficulties force Billie to trim a few songs and perform in front of a broken display screen,. While performing in Milan, Billie sprains her ankle, forcing her to leave the stage, come back, and leave once more until she’s coaxed into performing by her team. All in a day’s work, as they say.
There’s a good doc somewhere inside The World’s a Little Blurry; it just happens to be surrounded by 60ish minutes of excess. And considering that the arc of this story goes from writing songs in a bedroom to winning more Grammys than one can cradle in their arms in roughly 15 months, you’d think it would be easier to find the thread.
Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry (2021)
Directed by R.J. Cutler
Produced by R.J. Cutler, Anthony Seyler, Trevor Smith
Neon/Apple TV+, Rated R, Running time 140 minutes, Opens Feb. 26, 2021