In a production for Disney +, the pop star is giving a concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel that simply cannot exist – and haunts LA as a cartoon character
It was probably only a matter of time before Billie Eilish, the greatest pop star of our day, became a Disney character. As a princess, she would be the saddest of them all. Even as a cartoon character, she has only half opened her piercing blue eyes, as if she wanted to defy the childish scheme that was given her. In a wide beige blouse and flowing blonde hair, she strolls through a shiny, real-filmed world, whizzes through night streets in a convertible, looks down from the lookout points at her Los Angeles, in which her animated face doesn’t seem so strange at all – and finally climbs it Down the empty seats of the Hollywood Bowl, where the real, incarnate Billie Eilish sings just for her.
So much for the Disney factor of the concert film “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles”, which will be released on Friday on the Disney + streaming service. The focus of the production is more on film than on concert. Billie Eilish sings her entire album in the iconic open-air stage in the middle of the Hollywood Hills, accompanied by drums, her brother and songwriter Finneas on changing instruments – but not only does it take place without any audience, it also defies the rules of time, Space and organizational feasibility. It is a concert that could never take place like this.
Even the sun complies
Which doesn’t stop Billie Eilish from firmly maintaining this fantasy. With a soft voice she leads through the program, incidentally conjures up the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with its conductor Gustavo Dudamel several times on stage and makes it disappear again. She even controls the stars and lets it turn day and night again and again. The dance was staged by the film director Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk Till Dawn”, “Sin City”), who is known for his no-frills, lustfully excessive pulp cinema, which is also often mixed with Tex-Mex flavor.
Here he gives shimmering images to the dreamy melancholy that Eilish exudes. The scenes in which Eilish is a cartoon character (by Oscar-winning animation artist Patrick Osborne) moves through a palm-fringed LA run through the entire film. The orange sky, the longing look upwards, the streaks of light in the motorway tunnel through which the animated Billie races: all of this artfully merges with the action on the stage. The camera rotates restlessly around the musicians (even that would probably not be possible in a real concert situation), creeps up to them at floor level, catches their shadows, who dance in the stage light like evil fairy tale characters.
Actually, she only sings to herself
Eilish herself maintains a firm footing in her platform shoes, bell-bottoms and long, wide silk blouse. She sings her musically diverse songs as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Maybe also because here, in the empty amphitheater, she practically only does it for herself. The introspective character of the opener “I’m getting older” lasts until the very end: Perhaps there couldn’t be a better setting to present this album, which is a lot about self-love and mental growth.
In this sense, the flirtatious looks that Eilish throws into the camera during the pulsating “Oxytocin” (in which God, a woman, is involved in love-making) do not have any provocative function. A thunderstorm of red light conveys an ecstatic night club atmosphere. It is more solemn in “Goldwing”, in which Eilish is supported by her former youth choir. Dudamel’s orchestra underlines the melodies with noble restraint. It is only in the cheeky “I Think Therefore I Am” that it starts to let off steam – and, starting with a pizzicato theme and blaring brass, slowly thunder rises.
The tension discharges in “Happier Than Ever” in a line that thousands of fans would like to cheer on. “You made me hate this city”, Eilish throws at an indigestible ex-partner. But you suspect: It can’t get that far, even if the 19-year-old’s relationship with her hometown may be complicated. Your cinematic-musical love letter is definitely worth seeing.
(“Die Presse”, print edition, September 1st, 2021)