Friday, February 26, 2021

Billie Eilish: up close and personal


So what do we know about Billie Eilish, the 19-year-old star who swept last year's Grammys, who began her career by recording in her parents' Los Angeles home with her song-writing brother Finneas and who catapulted to stardom? In my case, only that she's an award-winning phenom with a ton of fan appeal. Home-schooled and seldom walled off from her emotions, Eilish becomes the main attraction of the new documentary, Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry. Good title because director R.J. Cutler takes us behind the scenes of a whirlwind life. Cutler films Eilish's mom and dad (Maggie Baird and Patrick O'Connell) and presents us with a portrait of an immensely talented teenager who, during the film, emerges as a star, claims emotional turf as the basis for her songs, breaks up with a boyfriend (a guy named "Q"), encounters fans, feels the exhausting frazzle of touring (in the US and Europe), suffers an episode of Tourette syndrome, injures her ankle, and flings herself with abandon across any number of stages. Yes, that’s a run-on sentence, but Eilish seems to be living a run-on life. Dancing on the edge of lost control (no, she never falls over), Eilish emerges as a singular creature, a young woman who once worried that her crush on Justin Bieber would ruin her for love. Who could live up to her imaginary relationship with Bieber, who eventually shows up in the film? Cutler follows Eilish's work on her debut album, When We Fall Asleep Where Do We Go. I’ll leave it to others to talk about Eilish's music and her attraction to dark subjects in songs such as All the Good Girls Go to Hell. In reviewing Eilish's first album, Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote, "She doesn't play innocent or ingratiating, or flirtations, or perky, or cute. Instead, she's sullen, depressive, death-haunted, sly, analytical and confrontational, all without raising her voice." That seems a pretty good description of a young woman navigating the tensions that can arise between music making and celebrity. The movie winds up at the Grammys where Billie puts an exclamation point on her meteoric rise. At more than two hours in length, the movie feels long and a bit exhausting, but fans probably won't care. After watching the documentary, all I could think was, "OK, now to return my mind to ordinary programming."

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