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Billie Eilish's documentary is a revealing look at heartbreak, fame: 'The pressure is constant'

Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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Spoiler alert! Contains details about Apple TV+ documentary "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry," premiering Friday.

No one loves "The Office" more than Billie Eilish.

The pop star sampled a clip from NBC's beloved mockumentary series in her 2019 song "My Strange Addiction," and has since flaunted her fandom in a podcast with Steve Carell and "Office" trivia game with Rainn Wilson.

So when it came time to make her documentary "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry" (streaming on Apple TV+ Friday), Eilish, 19, naturally looked to the workplace sitcom for inspiration.

"When we first met and were chatting about the (film), I was like, 'What would you want it to be like?' " director R.J. Cutler tells USA TODAY. "And she said, 'I want it to be like "The Office." ' She wanted that kind of real and comprehensive (approach), and that John Krasinski relationship with the camera where a glance over can break the fourth wall. We do it two or three times in these critical moments, where she looks right down the barrel of the camera.

"You know that she's seeing you and she knows you're seeing her. It's that very Billie Eilish connection with the audience."

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Billie Eilish in a scene from her new Apple TV+ documentary "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry," streaming Friday.
Billie Eilish in a scene from her new Apple TV+ documentary "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry," streaming Friday.

'She's the boss'

That connection is part of what makes "Blurry" the most intimate and revelatory music film in years. Many of Eilish's peers have released documentaries recently, as a means of reinvention or promoting albums. But most only scratch the surface of their subjects' interior lives, while Cutler digs deep into the tenacity and trade-offs of young fame.

Running nearly 2½ hours, "Blurry" forgoes talking head interviews and voiceovers for vérité-style footage and refreshingly unvarnished home video (much of which was shot by Eilish and her family). The first half is devoted almost entirely to the making of her Grammy-dominating debut album "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?", which she co-wrote and recorded in her modest Los Angeles home with brother Finneas O'Connell, now 23.

Told through laptop screens and iPhone videos, we watch as the siblings experiment with sounds and work through lyrics for future hits such as "Bad Guy," all while venting to their parents, Maggie Baird and Patrick O'Connell, about looming album deadlines. Many of the song and visual ideas spring directly from Eilish's vivid sketchbooks. At one point, she charmingly directs her mom in their backyard, shooting proof of concept for her "When the Party's Over" video.

"Billie Eilish is the vision of Billie Eilish: her entire body of work, her image, her business. She's the boss," Cutler says. "That footage was shot when she was 16, and the composition and specificity and confidence she has is great to see. It won't be surprising if Billie's career ultimately involves a really healthy amount of directing."

Nothing was off-limits

Cutler doesn't shy away from the struggles, acting as a fly on the wall as Eilish deals with heartbreak, growing up and multiple leg injuries from performing. On a whirlwind European tour, Eilish talks frankly about loneliness and feeling disconnected from her friends back home. In another conversation with her mom, she debates releasing "Xanny," in case the song's anti-drug sentiment could come back to bite her when she's older.

We also get rare glimpses into her relationship with a now-ex-boyfriend, nicknamed Q, through giddy phone calls and behind-the-scenes footage. She sweetly serenades him before playing the biggest show of her career at Coachella 2019, only to be stood up when she gets offstage. She tearfully rides back to her hotel and hugs her brother, their words just out of earshot.

Eilish opened up to Vogue last year about falling into depression after dating someone who treated her poorly, but has otherwise kept her relationships private.

"We're thoughtful, we're sensitive – we're not hiding in corners. But there was no specific area of her life at all that we were not invited into," Cutler says. At the end of the day, "we're telling the story of this extraordinary artist who's exploding on the world cultural stage, and of a young woman who's crossing the threshold from childhood to adulthood."

Billie Eilish, right, talks to mom Maggie Baird in "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry."
Billie Eilish, right, talks to mom Maggie Baird in "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry."

'I literally can't have a bad moment'

Cutler credits Eilish's family and team for helping her navigate stardom, along with celebrity mentors Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, who make endearing cameos offering advice. But it's not always perfect.

One of the doc's saddest moments comes late in the film when the singer is ambushed by various executives and their kids demanding pictures at her concert. Afterward, she sees a comment online saying she was "rude at the meet-and-greet."

"I literally can't have a bad moment," says Eilish, understandably frustrated. "I don't want anyone who knows who I am and is any sort of fan or knows a fan to see me in any sort of awkward situation. It's embarrassing and I have to keep smiling, and if I don't, they hate me and think I'm horrible."

"No throwing her to the wolves," her mom responds, admitting they "failed" and promising to do better.

"The pressure is constant; it's hard work," Cutler says. But Eilish "is so damn smart. I remember asking her guitar tech the first day of shooting, 'What's the key to their success, Billie and Finneas?' And he said, 'They don't give a (expletive) and they're always right. They've been smart enough to surround themselves with the grown-ups who recognize that and support that, and don't want them to be anything other than what they are.' "

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Billie Eilish documentary is the best music film in years