It’d be easy to think Everybody’s Everything, the painfully intimate documentary on the late Lil Peep, is a strictly-for-the-fans endeavor — that the only audience are the people who heard songs like “U Said” or “Crybaby” and felt like someone had mysteriously tapped into their own inner monologues. And yes, the die-hards will indeed find themselves giddy over the home movies, the behind-the-scenes peeks, the rise-and-fall of it all when they’re not tearing up. You wanna see footage of the groundbreaking emo-rapper getting the crowd jumping to “Beamer Boy” in Tucson, Arizona or hanging with the Gothboiclique in their L.A. H.Q/skaterat crash-pad loft or walking the runway during London’s fashion week? You got it.
But Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan’s portrait of an artist as a raw nerve is arguably better suited for folks who only knew Lil Peep as a name in a news ticker. For someone with no attachment to his music or his status as the slurred, sensitive voice of his generation, this look back allows them a chance to get to know Gustav Ahr (Gus to his friends and family). They will understand why so many people instantly gravitated toward his alter ego, who seemed both indestructible and on the verge of imploding from his own vulnerability. It’s an In Memoriam that makes a case for the legacy of the late 21-year-old as more than a casualty. Just watch the footage of Peep belting out his song “Witchblade” onstage. It’s not what he says in that opening two-word refrain but the way he yelps/shrieks it — “Switchblades, co-caiiiine” — that gives you goosebumps. The guy radiates charisma even when he’s cutting his heart out in front of you. Whether you love or hate the face tattoos, crude trap beats and straight-outta-LiveJournal lyrics, it’s still impossible not to see him perform and think, Whoa, who is this dude?
The answer? He was a happy toddler, an emotionally distant child of divorce and a rebellious teenager. He was someone’s son, brother and grandson. (The directors give Gus’s mother and grandmother lots of screen time, though pride of place goes to his grandfather, social activist and historian John Womack. His gravelly narrative asides — “The wounds your father gave you did not heal…I see pure gold in you” — are where the influence of family friend/executive producer Terrence Malick makes itself very apparent.) He was a creative dynamo who found an outlet, a purpose, a posse and a sense of salvation in underground hip-hop. Soon, a lot of people found salvation in Peep himself, and that’s when the real problems started. One of the most depressing aspects of Everybody’s Everything is how closely his real-life story hews to a very familiar rockstar narrative: idyllic childhood takes a wrong turn, a scene provides a surrogate family, success brings fame and a lot of exploitative new “friends,” the Next Big Thing crown beckons, pressure leads to drugs to numb the pain, tragedy. Only the names and the haircuts change.
And yet the particulars here, presented before you in such rough, chopped-up snippets, still break your heart. It’s tough to see a towheaded little boy, smiling in pictures, and then see the grown version of that child grimacing in existential pain or, worse, whacked out of his skull. The film presents footage of Lil Peep’s triumphant moments, but it also lets you witness a Los Angeles record-label showcase from May 2017, in which Gus has taken too much of some illicit substance(s). No one is sure whether it’s safe for him to go on. When Peep does hit the stage, he mumbles his lyrics and looks like a wraith. Eventually, he wakes up halfway through a song and finishes the set. Collaborators talk about Peep having to hide in his wardrobe in order to cry, because his bedroom was always full of people. The warning signs are clear, even before he posts on Instagram that he’s crumbling under the strain of being “everybody’s everything.” He will fatally overdose on Xanax and Fentanyl the next day.
Yes, it’s grim and gloomy — and like Lil Peep’s music, there’s also a sense of catharsis in all of this. More than anything, Jones and Silyan seem to be fashioning a postmortem that plays like his greatest hits, in which wounded wooziness somehow gives way to exhilaration and a warped sense of uplift. Even the patchwork feel of the piece seems on point. And while almost everybody in Everybody’s Everything talks about Peep through a lens of either tainted sainthood or snuffed-out superstardom, the doc itself never forgets that there was a human being beneath the floppy dyed bangs and “Crybaby” facial ink. You may not emerge from the movie as a convert. But you will 100-percent feel the loss.