‘Happier Than Ever’ Review: Modern Pop Meets Classic Hollywood

The concert film “Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” finds the pop musician Billie Eilish performing in her hometown, and taking her place in the long lineage of stars who have been shaped by the mythology of Los Angeles.

Eilish sings a tight set consisting of songs from her most recent album “Happier Than Ever.” There are brief sequences in which an animated Eilish cruises down billboarded boulevards, or looks over a sprawling vista. But the best tribute to the city comes from the choice of venue, the Hollywood Bowl, and Eilish’s guest collaborators — most notably, the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Hollywood Bowl amphitheater is completely emptied for this virtual concert, and Eilish plays to an absent crowd. The contrast between the spectacle onstage and the vacuum in the audience suggests the star-struck hauntedness of the City of Angels better than the more direct visual metaphors employed in the animated sequences of the film — trite images of Eilish growing wings and floating into the clouds.

As Eilish croons about the pressures of fame, the Hollywood Bowl cradles her, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic lifts her. Strobe lights flash, and the directors, Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Osborne, swirl the camera, peering down at Eilish with distant drone shots. But despite the modern technology, the setting and the sound draws attention to what is retro about this young star’s style, the influences from bossa nova, jazz, and traditional choral music that pop up in her chart-topping records. If there is a surprise to be had in this concert footage, it is that modern pop retains a glimmer of classic Hollywood mystique — here, there’s as much Judy Garland as there is Lana Del Rey.

Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 6 minutes. Watch on Disney+.

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