Editor’s Note: Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles features light patterns at several points that may affect those vulnerable to photosensitive epilepsy or other photo sensitivities. Additionally, the film features multiple scenes where the camera constantly moves, which may affect those vulnerable to motion sickness or other motion-related sensitivities.
Earlier this year, Grammy Award-winning and visionary musician Billie Eilish released her latest album, Happier Than Ever, this July to rave reviews. Just two months later, Eilish is back with Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles, a “cinematic concert experience” that features performances of the album in sequential order from the stage of the iconic Hollywood Bowl. That all sounds well and good, but does it lend to a substitution for a live concert, or will it be sent to the streaming doldrums? The answer is a bit complicated, especially in a year full of concert films vying for the public’s attention.
The reason why it’s complicated is that I think the answer depends on your knowledge of Billie Eilish. If you’ve only listened to Happier Than Ever, you’re going to have a different opinion of Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles than someone who has listened to her entire discography. Eilish has made a name for herself, especially in her music videos. However, her direction is so distinctly unique that newcomers might be caught off-kilter by the creative choices made within this film.
Part of that is because, in Eilish’s music videos, there’s no question who made their creative decisions behind the music videos: it’s Eilish’s vision and hers alone. Here, it’s abundantly clear that Eilish isn’t in creative control. The direction here by Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne feels like Disney asked focus groups what they liked or disliked about Billie Eilish and dialed the direction using the results. So, there are times where the film is firing on all cylinders (like in Eilish’s performance of “Oxytocin”) and other times where it feels like a slog to watch (her performance of “Goldwing” and many others). It doesn’t particularly help that, in between songs, the film has Who Framed Roger Rabbit-style interludes that felt like Eilish’s true vision for the film (to the point where an entire song is performed in this style), and it felt like a fight between two different films that I was stuck in the middle of in.
One area where we do see Eilish’s vision clear as day is in the cinematography by Pablo Berron, the Director of Photography for the concert film. His cinematography is fluid, transitioning from gimbal work to closeups to crane shots and just about everything in between. Berron’s work is easily the highlight of the concert film and should absolutely be commended. I mean, just look at this. It’s insanely inventive.
Mostly, Eilish’s performances in the concert film are about as enthralling as you’d expect. Eilish is supremely talented, and it shows. If there’s one thing that kept me watching, it was Billie’s performances. I’ve never seen her live, but if this is anything to go by, I’ll be buying tickets as soon as she tours in my area. There are little things she does in her performances that transform these songs from some abstract idea that you’re spending the whole album trying to figure out to a clear picture that you can tell your friends about. Outside of the talent on display, I think the way Eilish plays to the camera when it gets close to her face is fantastic. It reminded me of the bands I used to listen to growing up and how they’d play to the camera in every music video. The interaction makes you feel like you’re part of this collective experience, and that’s an appreciated gesture in a time where live concerts are just starting back up again.
If you like Billie Eilish and can’t make it to any of her shows this year, I’d certainly recommend this film. You’ll have a great time. If you’re not, then this isn’t an entry point for Eilish’s music for you. That entry point is simply going to the music streaming service of your choice, streaming one or two of her albums, and sitting back and doing nothing other than listening to the album.
Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles is now available to stream on Disney+.
Until next time!