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Film Review: ‘Everybody’s Everything’

This haunting documentary explores the short life of rapper Lil Peep.

With:
Liza Womack, iLoveMakonnen, John Womack, Trapzilla, Layla Shapiro, Juicy J, Ghostmane, JGRXXN, Smokeasac, Sus Boy, Rob Cavallo, Sherwin Shapouri, Chase Ortega, Sarah Stennett, Jenny Kastner, Bexey.

1 hour 55 minutes

An elegiac documentary exploring the brief life of rapper Lil Peep, “Everybody’s Everything” certainly doesn’t lack for perspectives. Interviewing virtually everyone who knew the musician (born Gustav Ahr), directors Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan cover the waterfront, from Peep’s family to his girlfriends, his innumerable collaborators, his managers and his fans, trying to distill exactly what it was about this shy, vulnerable kid that made him such a self-made sensation in the short years between the launch of his career via rough bedroom recordings, and his death of a drug overdose at age 21. Given the proximity to his passing (barely a year and a half ago), the remembrances are raw and sometimes free-associative, and a wealth of intimate footage offers plenty of warts-and-all testimony to the wild blur that was his life. The only perspective that’s missing here is that of Peep himself, and that hole at the center of the narrative gives the film a haunting impact.

While the manner of his early death positions him as the latest victim of a depressingly familiar music industry story, Peep’s success as a rapper defied a number of old assumptions. A middle class white kid raised by an academic family in Long Island – his grandfather, whose heartbreakingly poetic and empathetic letters to his grandson are read aloud throughout the film, is retired Harvard professor and renowned Emiliano Zapata scholar John Womack – Peep was a high school outcast who surprised his friends when he decided to embark on a rap career. But his rough early efforts, inspired by emo and punk as much as mainstream hip-hop, quickly attracted far-flung admirers via SoundCloud, and after dropping out of high school, Peep alighted to Los Angeles to begin a series of collaborations.

His new compatriots – all colorfully maned and inked, with names like JGRXXN and YungWardenBuffett – were part of a collective called Schemaposse, which rapidly dissolved, leaving Peep to join the existing local crew Gothboiclique, and setting up shop at a Skid Row crash pad, where he and his friends would often sleep three to a couch. In a matter of around a year, the sometimes homeless Peep would go from playing chaotic DIY shows at the types of garbage-strewn dives that might have given Sid Vicious pause, to touring sold-out clubs in Russia and Germany, all on the strength of homemade recordings that were put together on improvised equipment at a breakneck pace. (In one scene, we see Peep teasing a new release via tweet – first writing that the song will be out in 20 minutes, then impulsively slicing the deadline to 15 – even though his producer is still busy finishing it.)

Despite the sheer glut of material he released during his lifetime – and some rather overblown comparisons to everyone from Kurt Cobain to Prince – there’s a sense that Peep was only really starting to find himself, as both an artist and an adult, when his life was cut short. As the buzz around him built and industryites congregated, Peep had started to confront the growing pains that come with budding stardom, torn between his growing cadre of collaborators and hangers-on (some of them essentially financially dependent on him) and the more glamorous opportunities promised by fashion shoots in Paris and professional recording sessions with the likes of iLoveMakonnen in London.

This is also a classic industry story, but there’s something about Peep’s obvious naivete as he navigates these waters that makes it particularly painful, especially taken in concert with the toxic quantity of drugs that seemed to follow him everywhere he went. When he turns down a fan trying to thrust a bottle of vodka into his hand, he seems almost worried about disappointing her (“I don’t know if you know, but you shouldn’t mix alcohol and Xanax,” he bashfully admonishes), and one scene at an LA gig, where the nearly catatonic Peep is ushered onstage in a state that would have prompted any reasonable person to immediately call an ambulance, is incredibly difficult to watch.

Though the film doesn’t break much new ground formally, Jones (a protégé of Terrence Malick, who serves as an executive producer here) and music video veteran Silyan are quite effective in demarcating moods through subtle changes in editing, with Peep’s first breakthroughs stacked up in a giddy blur, and the pace slowing to a molasses-like crawl as the never-ending party starts to take a toll. Things drift a bit when it comes to Peep’s death, and several weirdly combative interviews with those who were with him at the time seem to talk around various social media conspiracies that are never quite explained. But the film snaps back into stunning focus during its epilogue, where Peep’s grandfather Womack, previously only heard in voiceover, is allowed to speak at length. Unfazed by all the face tattoos and calculated outrageousness that accompanied his grandson’s artistic persona, Womack clearly never stopped seeing Peep as his little boy, and his quiet ruminations on mortality and manhood land with shattering force.

Film Review: 'Everybody's Everything'

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, March 15, 2019. (In SXSW Film Festival.)

Production: A First Access Entertainment presentation of a Beamer Boy production. Produced by Benjamin Soley. Executive producers: Terrence Malick, Liza Womack, Sarah Stennett.

Crew: Directed by Sebastian Jones, Ramez Silyan. Camera (color): Silyan. Editors: Kyle Seaquist, Jones. Music: Patrick Stump.

With: Liza Womack, iLoveMakonnen, John Womack, Trapzilla, Layla Shapiro, Juicy J, Ghostmane, JGRXXN, Smokeasac, Sus Boy, Rob Cavallo, Sherwin Shapouri, Chase Ortega, Sarah Stennett, Jenny Kastner, Bexey.

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