Exclusively for Disney+, Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne form Billie Eilish’s album about the dark side of fame, abuse and misogyny Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles Movie Ending Explained a concert experience that also wants to be a love letter to Los Angeles. We will reveal in our review whether this was successful.
OT: Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (USA 2021)
That’s what it’s about
Multiple Grammy award winner Billie Eilish gives a concert on the stage of the legendary Hollywood Bowl. In front of empty stands, she plays her second studio album “Happier Than Ever” together with her brother singer-songwriter Finneas, the Los Angeles Philharmonic under conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the famous Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. First and last time in the order in which the songs are heard on the record, with orchestral arrangements by David Campbell. Meanwhile, a drawn Billie Eilish wanders through Los Angeles. She visits iconic corners of her hometown in a dreamy, associative sequence. But where does she want to go?
In Martin Schreier’s film “Our Time is Now,” rapper Cro commissions three fans to each make a film about him. This film-within-a-film is an intimate tour recording, a love letter to cinema and an animated Cro-origin story. So fans of Our Time Is Now may have had déjà vu when Disney released the trailer for Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles. In it, a drawn Billie Eilish drives through the Californian city in a vintage convertible (including past the restaurant and cinema mile that Quentin Tarantino immortalized in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). All this while the real Billie Eilish performs on one of the most famous open-air stages of our time – The Hollywood Bowl. Admittedly, “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” is not a genre mishmash, but a concert film through and through. We still wanted to take the opportunity to remind you of the enjoyable box office flop “Our Time is Now”. And we wanted to choose an introduction to criticism that would also grab the curiosity of those who are not fans of Billie Eilish. Because concert films are a tricky genre.
Always in the center of attention: exceptional musician Billie Eilish.
Certainly: many a great director has already tried to offer something more that is based on the pure enjoyment of a concert. In “Buena Vista Social Club,” for example, Wim Wenders documented the living conditions of the eponymous Cuban group between concert recordings. Martin Scorsese, in turn, captured a turning point in music history with “The Last Waltz” and commented on it, interspersed with the farewell concert of the rock group The Band. And “The Silence of the Lambs” director Jonathan Demme created a small work of art with the Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense”: He gradually opens the focus of the film, letting an initially intimate experience that puts us in the position of a band member shifted, gradually growing into a collective concert experience in which the experiences of the musicians and the enthusiasm of the audience merge. Nevertheless, film enthusiasts who can’t do anything with the bands mentioned are unlikely to become fans of these works. You simply have to be able to derive enjoyment from the concert itself, otherwise even the greatest ambitions in concert films will only bear minimal fruit. If there is a connection between the audience and the music being performed, anything beyond that is a very welcome bonus.
“You simply have to be able to derive enjoyment from the concert itself, otherwise even the greatest ambitions in concert films have only minimal results.”
“Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” offers a moving more. However, this bonus is not immediately apparent. There’s no supporting documentary like there is in “Buena Vista Social Club,” and Billie Eilish doesn’t make detailed, intention-explaining comments between songs like Taylor Swift does in “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions.” The More is a non-verbalized, emotionally powerful bonus that is deeply rooted in the artistic concept of this concert film. In this respect, this concert film is reminiscent of “Stop Making Sense” or “Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii”, in which the rock band is crushed by the impressive, desolate panorama of Pompeii in front of empty stands. You have to fully engage with the music and lyrics (or already be familiar with them) to see how the songs and the staging complement each other. However, the reward is even greater if you meet this condition. Which brings us back to “Our Time is Now”: Even if “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” isn’t a metacomedy-romance-cartoon-mockumentary-concert recording mishmash, it definitely seems like the kind of concert film that who would find the film version of Cro desirable. Including a cartoon element, a nod to one’s own passions (in Billie Eilish’s case it’s Los Angeles instead of Cro’s passion for cinema) and a more intense introspective than a standard concert recording would be able to deliver.
Billie Eilish’s album “Happier Than Ever” gives the film its dramaturgy.
It’s impressive how the film director Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Patrick Osborne (“Love goes through the stomach”)guest director Robertino Zambrano (“Love In The Time Of March Madness”, staged here the segment “Not My Responsibility”), stage director Kerry Asmussen (13-time live director of the Coachella main stage shows) and lighting director Tony Caporale worked together to create an audiovisual experience from the eponymous studio album that resonates with the content of Eilish’s second album. The project already gains enormously from the fact that Billie Eilish decided to forego the usual concert dramaturgy and instead play her album “Happier Than Ever” from start to finish. In doing so, it gives us a rare beast of a concert film that moves away from the idea of ”We’re recording for posterity what event excited the people there” but instead sees itself as a visualization of the emotional journey that the album describes. In combination with the fact that they show Eilish in pompous images in front of empty stands in a pop-culturally significant location, the minds behind “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” create a fascinating paradox – epochal intimacy: the razor-sharp shots by cameraman Pablo Berron (“American Mustang”) allow an immediate impression of Eilish’s smallest facial reactions, as well as a feeling for the power of the light show and the aura of the empty Hollywood Bowl.
“It is impressive how film directors Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne, guest director Robertino Zambrano, stage director Kerry Asmussen and lighting director Tony Caporale work together to create an audiovisual experience from the eponymous studio album that resonates with the content of Eilish’s second album.”
The inspiration and impact of a song exist simultaneously in this film, the most intimate thoughts are channeled and maximized into a huge acoustic and visual echo chamber. Rodriguez’s direction of the concert moments allows us to experience up close how Eilish, lost in her songs, once again goes through the emotional tumult that she sings about in her album, while the product of this tumult is furiously displayed. The concert begins with sadness about how much the young artist has aged since her breakthrough – in the sense of how many personal setbacks she suffered, or how much the pressure of expectations and the dark side of fame threatened to spoil her passion for making music. Song by song, Eilish toils through efforts to recapture her youth and light-footedness, through moments of lightness that cause her to stumble, and through detailed reflections on her prominence as well as vulnerable, sad, and angry processing of emotional abuse. With the unnerved, serene ambient sound poem “Not My Responsibility,” Eilish gains a well-deserved goosebump-inducing moment of defiance in the second half, which also serves as a turning point in the concert film.
Billie Eilish has appeared on the world’s biggest stages. This time it will be more intimate…
When Eilish later dances with joy on stage to the title song with a relaxed smile and literally shakes off the worries it sings about, her catharsis practically jumps out of the screen. We see the concert about Billie Eilish living her songs, who returns to the emotions of her lyrical self while singing. But now the entertainer Billie Eilish also shines through, playing on the open-air stage full of enjoyment and awe, passionately combining self-therapy from a distanced attitude with joy in the entertainment potential of this unusual concert. A triumph that she works hard for on the path to the title song. The album’s emotionally ambiguous epilogue, “Male Fantasy”, then develops a completely new resonance because its melancholy and resigned lyric passages, despite a conciliatory production, demonstrate: You come out of the pain, but you come out of the pain changed. The animated film elements are used sporadically throughout this musical and emotional journey, but this does not diminish their importance. Osborne’s drawn Billie initially seems like a simple link between individual songs, but her precisely chosen performances work towards an emotional pay-off.
“We see the concert about Billie Eilish living her songs, who returns to the emotions of her lyrical self while singing.”
We are debating whether that is enough to call this concert film a love letter to Los Angeles with a clear conscience. The mixed film sequences at least have a strongly condensed LA flair. In addition, “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” is a big step for Disney+: The word “fuck” is hidden, but even lines like “Home alone, tryin’ not to eat / Distract myself with pornography” remain untouched . After the rustic, cozy, yet insightful private concert “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions” and Beyoncé’s bombast experiment “Black is King,” Billie Eilish’s concert film “Happier Than Ever” is the next Disney+ music contribution outside the everyday Disney framework. One with an intentionally unbalanced focus: rough and unadorned, styled to a high gloss and aesthetically fulfilling at the same time.
Conclusion: Assuming a connection to Billie Eilish’s music, “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” offers anyone interested a skillful visualization and intensification of the raw emotional journey that makes up the album of the title.
“Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” will be available on Disney+ from September 3, 2021.