‘Everybody’s Everything’ Review: Terrence Malick Exec Produces Moving Doc on Rapper Lil Peep

This SXSW premiere, a close-up look at the life and death of late Soundcloud rapper Lil Peep, bears the influence of its EP Terrence Malick.
Everybody's Everything Review: A Moving Doc About Rapper Lil Peep
"Everybody's Everything"

The rapper Lil Peep tweeted 15 times on the day he died. At 1:14am: “Nightmares to u is my life to me.” That was followed by a handful of links to music he liked or wanted to self-promote, a fan retweet of some performance footage, and an emoji-filled reference to his stage name, which the 21-year-old’s loving mom had coined when he was a child. Finally, at 5:01pm, he shared a shoutout to his “biggest fan” Nick Bons, an incarcerated felon whose sister had allegedly provided the rapper with drugs. Lil Peep was found dead a few hours later in the back of a tour bus outside the Tucson, Arizona, venue where he’d been scheduled to perform; his body would later test positive for everything from cannabis and cocaine to prescription-grade painkillers like Tramadol and oxycodone.

If the replies to these final posts are any indication, Lil Peep’s fans were surprised to hear that he was gone. The social media reaction was about what you’d expect in the wake of a young celebrity’s death, only more so. Of course every heartfelt expression of grief was followed by a dozen conspiratorial accusations or disaffected jokes, but even the most sincere replies were shaded with a palpable sense of disbelief; it’s always hard to believe that someone is gone, but these people literally couldn’t believe that Lil Peep was gone. It didn’t feel like a tribute so much as it did the unplanned final episode of “The Truman Show” — an entire subculture was staring at their screens and waiting for their favorite star to come back on the air.

It’s hard to blame them: Lil Peep had effectively live-streamed his entire adult life on social media. Between Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud — the online music service through which he’d connected with a broad network of like-minded bedroom rappers — there had never really been much of a screen between Peep’s life and the people watching it from a distance. He was an artist who created in real-time and existed without boundaries. At one point in Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan’s “Everybody’s Everything,” a riveting and hypnotic sanctification of the late musician, Peep stands in a studio and drafts a tweet announcing that the track he’s in the middle of recording will drop on Soundcloud in 20 minutes. He catches himself before sending it, and makes a quick edit: Fifteen minutes.

“Everybody’s Everything” is — per its title, and the emo, trap-inflected rap of its subject — hard to classify. It’s a requiem for a kind-hearted rapper who would sooner have died than hurt someone else. It’s a familiarly toxic saga of sudden fame, albeit one that’s told in the hyper-specific language of the internet circa 2017. It’s a study of social media as a double-edged sword; a tool that can help someone find their tribe only to render them a hostage to it.

Least exciting (but most immediate) of all, this documentary is perhaps the definitive portrait of the so-called “mumble rap” scene, which seemed to spill over from Soundcloud and into the real world with the transgressive how is this happening? magic of Buster Keaton breaking the fourth wall in “Sherlock Jr.” Much like its subject, the film is beautiful, compelling, hard to watch, and spread too thin to stay with us for long.

Born Gustav Elijah Åhr to a couple of white Harvard graduates in suburban Pennsylvania, Peep was shaped by a complicated adolescence, and a natural desire to be an outsider (hence the shock of pink hair, and his affinity for the face tattoos that have become the defining symbol of the Soundcloud rap era). Despite the trove of home video footage and the ample testimony from Peep’s high school girlfriend, the film is still a bit hazy on how a gangly teen named Gustav decided to shed his skin and become an artist; it often feels as though the events of the film are too fresh to properly contextualize.

On the other hand, a sense of narrative dislocation only adds to the feeling that Peep never found a balance between his private and public selves, or never knew how to separate the two. It’s like he opened the door to his bedroom, and once the world came streaming in he was incapable of chasing them back out. The film’s shell-shocked interviewees argue that Peep needed love too badly to deny it to anyone else, and that made him extremely vulnerable to his own success. He wanted to be “everybody’s everything,” and all but a few of his closest friends allowed him to try.

Executive produced by Terrence Malick (Jones has worked in the editorial department for several of his projects), “Everybody’s Everything” is at its best when it wears that auteur’s influence on its sleeve. Of all the film’s many conflicting strategies, the most effective is the sporadic, Malickian use of voiceover narration. In a devastatingly painful display of mourning, Peep’s grandfather — leftist historian John Womack, a Rhodes Scholar whose dissertation on Zapata and the Mexican Revolution earned him a professorship at Harvard — reads heartrending excerpts from the handwritten letters he wrote to his grandson. Layered over footage of Peep teetering on the edge of an overdose and/or performing to crowds of screaming teens, these poetic ruminations about manhood and morality feel like unanswered prayers.

Not only do Womack’s words echo the pain of Peep’s art, they also make it that much easier to appreciate a subgenre that some viewers might struggle to take seriously. The film’s roster of interviewees include people named Fish Narc, Trapzilla, and Smokeasac, all of whom are recorded in their natural habitats in order to further blur the line between the musicians and the scene that sprung up around them. Nevertheless, we’re on the outside looking in. The film’s reliance on testimony and candid video create a bubble that keeps us at a greater distance from Peep than he ever was from his fans.

As morbidly telling as it is to watch him try to rap for a rabid crowd when he’s too high to say his own name, “Everybody’s Everything” lacks the intimacy of Peep’s own social media posts. It’s strange that a guy who broadcast everything about himself — his sexuality, his dreams, his mental health — should be made to feel like such an enigma. That the documentary’s title is lifted from one of Peep’s Instagram captions suggests how confessional they were, but Jones and Silyan’s insistently kaleidoscopic approach makes it difficult to get a clear read on someone whose feelings were literally written across his face. But that’s the problem with someone who wanted to be all things to all people: Peep never felt like he had enough to give. Here, at last, the emphasis is squarely on how much he left behind.

Grade: B

Everybody’s Everything” premiered at SXSW 2019. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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