Review: 'The World's a Little Blurry' helps bring Billie Eilish into focus

Apple TV+ documentary looks at the swift rise of the Grammy-winning superstar

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Being a teenage pop star is tough: mom and dad have opinions on your art, music video directors are slow to pick up on your vision and in between recording songs for your debut album, you've got to study for your upcoming driver's test. 

At least those are the trials and tribulations of Billie Eilish, and they're laid out in "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry," the intimate, engrossing documentary that tracks the teenage sensation's meteoric rise to the top of the music industry. 

Finneas (left) and Billie Eilish in "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry."

Director R.J. Cutler ("Belushi," "The September Issue") takes viewers inside Eilish's world and inside her modest Los Angeles home where she lives with her parents and her brother Finneas, who is also her musical partner and producer.

There are no talking heads or outside voices to help frame the story or to take away from the firsthand nature of the storytelling. "The World's a Little Blurry" is essentially made up of raw footage that traces Eilish from the making of her debut album "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" to its release (it debuted at No. 1 around the world, no big deal) to her star making Coachella performance.

It catches all the little moments in between, amid the storm brewing around her: the bouts of self-doubt, the celebrity run-ins (she meets Orlando Bloom not knowing he's Orlando Bloom), the embarrassment any teenager feels dealing with their parents. Eilish hit the mainstream and took off like a rocket, and "The World's a Little Blurry" helps to humanize her and bring her trajectory into focus.

And it helps viewers gain an understanding of Eilish, who was 13 when she posted her first single, "Ocean Eyes," online. That was waaay back in 2016, a presidential cycle ago to the world but a lifetime ago for an emerging teen pop megastar. 

Billie Eilish in "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry."

Eilish, who is now 19, grew up in a close-knit musical family. Her parents are overwhelmingly supportive and her bond with her brother is her backbone: he pushes her, he helps her, he understands her, and the two of them truly make beautiful music together. 

He also helps take the pressure off her, dealing with things like deadlines, business matters and outside interferences and allowing her to focus on her art. As much as "The World's a Little Blurry" is about Eilish, it's also about the ways her brother has supported her, sheltered her and allowed her to be herself.

We see Eilish blossom in her art, whether she's conceptualizing a music video in her backyard or bumming out over her vision not being fully realized on stage. Eilish is a pop star for our times, singing about loneliness and alienation and the darkness within her soul. Her key is her authenticity, and Cutler shines a light on how she funnels her vision creatively.   

And there's everything that comes with the territory: interactions with fans, dealings with record company guys and meet-and-greets with random music industry types who pester her for photos when all she wants to do is lay down. We follow Eilish through performances (Coachella didn't go quite as planned) and injuries and meetings with her aloof boyfriend Q, who unsurprisingly — given the footage seen here — isn't her boyfriend for long. 

And then there's Justin Bieber. Eilish is obsessed with the teen pop idol, and we get to see her, over the course of the film, go from his fan to his contemporary. Their first meeting — captured at Coachella — goes from charmingly awkward to deeply touching, but what makes it relatable is the way that Eilish is every bit a teenager, not knowing how to react to everything that's happening around her but having to deal with it in the moment. Her path with Bieber is the same as that of the movie, in that we get to see her grow from wanting the American dream to living the American dream, and all the good and bad that comes along with it. It's one hell of a ride.


'Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry'


Rated R: for language throughout and brief nude sketches

Running time: 140 minutes

On Apple TV+ and in theaters