'Bo Burnham: Inside' Could Be the Definitive Piece of Pandemic Art, Flaws and All Directed by Bo Burnham
Published Jun 07, 2021Well over a year into the pandemic, we're all probably a little burnt out on people talking about their own personal quarantine journeys. It's almost like talking about the weather — something so universally relatable that it borders on small talk.
With that in mind, Bo Burnham doesn't exactly have anything new to say in his new tragicomedy special Inside — although he does manage to articulate the loneliness, self-reflection and depression of the coronavirus era more vividly than perhaps anyone else so far.
Bo Burnham: Inside is extremely, extremely meta — kind of like a Charlie Kaufman movie, or one of those first-year film school projects where a clever kid decides to make a film about making a film. Burnham turns a small one-room apartment into a sound stage, performing songs and projecting visuals onto the white wall behind him. Between songs, he speaks directly to the camera about how making this special is giving him a sense of purpose in an otherwise unfulfilling time, and the small room is cluttered with cables and lighting rigs. We're constantly reminded that Burnham is alone and making this entirely on his own, and his hair and scraggly beard serve as physical signposts of how long he's in there.
The songs — which take up most of the runtime and are the clear highlight — deal with loneliness, but, more frequently, they're preoccupied with the social justice issues of the coronavirus era. There's a song in which Burnham apologizes for past problematic behaviour; then, in the second verse, he apologizes for the inadequate apology in the first verse. He makes a reaction video about one of his songs, then a reaction video about his reaction video, then another reaction video about that reaction video. He's self-aware about being self-aware — something that feels a bit insufferably smug, but accurately describes the ouroboros-like experience of advocating for social justice in the social media age.
The first half is packed with darkly funny moments — perhaps most notably a children's song about a sock puppet that devolves into a scathing takedown of society's power structures, like an anarchist Randy Newman. A parody of a "white woman's Instagram" is possibly a bit misogynistic but is still a laser-accurate takedown of IG clichés.
Things get a lot less funny following a short intermission — mostly intentionally. There are frank discussions of suicide, scenes where Burnham simply lies on the floor, and one heartbreaking moment where he flat-out sobs. The songs aren't quite as funny, either: a ditty about the chaos of internet culture feels like a dated Gen X commentary on the speed of modern life (the refrain of "everything all of the time" is directly lifted from a two-decades-old Radiohead song). A folksy acoustic guitar tune called "Funny Feeling" is basically just a disconnected list of stuff from the modern word; the similarity to Father John Misty's "Holy Shit" is accentuated by Burnham's unkempt hair and beard. It's all a bit "we live in a society."
But, y'know what — we do live in a society, and right now it kinda sucks. Despite (or even maybe because of) its flaws, Bo Burnham: Inside just might be the definitive piece of pandemic art so far. (Netflix)