Billie Eilish’s insular world is hardly unique—she bickers with her mother, is lectured by her father on the rules of the road in preparation for her first time driving alone, and laughs heartily at the jokes her brother makes while lounging in her childhood bedroom. But there’s an obvious catch: she’s a global pop star.
R.J. Cutler’s documentary The World’s a Little Blurry hooks the viewer in for this reason. Eilish is simultaneously being viewed through a metaphorical lens—the pressures and pitfalls that accompany upholding a public persona as a teen—and a physical lens (the camera crew that films her picking out performance attire, driving through fan-crowded streets, and going to Coachella). Of course, she still maintains some semblance of what it’s like to be a teenager in the 21st century. She gets anxious. She calls her then-boyfriend. She journals.
But Cutler never lets the viewer dwell on Eilish’s semi-normal moments. For every mundane scene, the film cuts to another that is specific to a pop star like Eilish’s existence. One moment she is sitting on the steps of her childhood home, rocking quietly back and forth while hugging her knees, hair messy and face bare. The next she is driving through barren California desert on her way to perform at Coachella, one of the most profitable music festivals in the world. One moment Eilish is undergoing physical therapy for leg pain, explaining how her injuries ended her dancing career as a child. The next she is embracing superstar Katy Perry, who pulls Eilish in close to confess that “[fame] is a weird ride.”
With one foot in what’s left of her childhood—hanging with hometown friends, sleeping in her childhood bedroom, and spending time with her protective parents—Eilish is also beginning to step into adulthood, the process being considerably sped up by her burgeoning fame. This constant push and pull between her two worlds is ever-so-present throughout the film, speaking truth to the title—the world is spinning around Eilish, dizzying her in the process.
Most celebrity documentaries center on associating a star with a degree of normalcy or relatability. In Lady Gaga’s Gaga: Five Foot Two, the superstar is filmed attending a family baptism and digging through old pictures at her grandmother’s house. In One Direction’s 2013 film One Direction: This Is Us, the boys are constantly reminiscing on their humble beginnings in their respective hometowns.
Such films understandably have trouble escaping the banalities of celebrity culture. What else is there to these celebrities? They make music, they tour the world. Even when measures are taken to cement a star as relatable, most films seem to forget an obvious fact: intimacy can rarely be achieved between a celebrity and a fan when cameras are following the former everywhere.
So where does The World’s a Little Blurry fit in amongst a known catalog of pop-documentary tropes? The answer lies within a major theme of the film: the universal experience of being a fan.
In the first scene of The World’s a Little Blurry, Eilish is performing at a small venue in Salt Lake City three years after the initial success of her song “Ocean Eyes.” After stopping the show to make sure an injured fan is successfully carried out of the crowd, Eilish informs the audience that they need to be okay because they’re the reason that she is okay. She explains that she doesn’t refer to her fans as “fans,” but rather as a part of her.
Small moments like these are not just time fillers, and for a specific reason: Eilish has had a lifelong obsession with artist Justin Bieber. The viewer travels between various scenes that explain Eilish’s infatuation; there’s footage of a twelve-year-old Eilish detailing her love for Bieber, Eilish’s mother telling the camera that they once considered taking a young Eilish to therapy over how “lovesick” she was for Bieber.
As Eilish’s fame continues to skyrocket throughout the film, the gap between Bieber and her slowly closes. She explains her obsession while recording a podcast. She later is notified that Bieber wants to hop on a remix of her hit song “bad guy.” When Coachella rolls around, Eilish attends Ariana Grande’s set just to run into Bieber himself. Footage shows a shy Eilish teetering around him until she eventually relents, wrapping herself in his arms and softly sobbing into his hoodie while fans around them roar with excitement.
Cutler’s deep dive into Eilish’s own obsession with Bieber was a meticulous choice. Every superfan is familiar with feeling like you know someone you’ve never met. Eilish, too, can relate to this, yet she achieves every fan’s dream: she closes the gap between her and her idol.
While Eilish is admittedly only able to attain a friendship with Bieber through the means of her fame, she still is living a very universal dream. And when Eilish is shown doubting her performance as an artist, her brother reminds her that the fans “are there for her” and no one else. These moments actually achieve in showcasing Eilish as grounded; she, the superfan, is insecure regarding the dedication of her own superfans.
Though pop documentaries often get lost in trying to establish a star as “normal,” The World’s a Little Blurry doesn’t fight the same struggle. Instead, the film focuses on the foundation Eilish’s childhood has given her—her familial relations, mental health struggles, and yes, her love for Justin Bieber—and how whirling bouts of change have affected it. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a celebrity feature film, though it, too, admittedly leans into the classic my-life-is-like-yours-but-just-kidding-I-am-a-superstar trope.
Navigating teenagehood is confusing enough. One is facing the stress of the future, the pull of social pressure, and rapid change. Billie Eilish is practically straddling two worlds in The World’s a Little Blurry, making the film captivating, thrilling, and honestly, downright sad at times. The viewer watches Eilish as she’s thrown headfirst into the web of relationships that tangle, clash, and mend when one reaches the tip of adulthood—but she isn’t too bothered by it. “Life is good,” she exclaims in one of the final moments of the film. It’s a proclamation of peace with a blurry world that is perfectly her own.
By Ellie Greenberg