Burnham’s impressive individual technical feat, now on Netflix, is a scathing musical fantasy.
How do you fabricate escape when escape is no longer an option? Bo Burnham turned the camera on himself. The gangly comedian-turned-filmmaker has delivered ironic musical stand-up work since his teens, but the pandemic has forced him to reconsider his approach. While “Bo Burnham: Inside” was billed as a surprise Netflix comedy special by a guy who made a few, it’s actually a weird and deep immersion into the anxieties of a year the the very idea of a “comedy special” sounded like a lost cause. The result is more Charlie than Andy Kaufman, as “Inside” becomes less about disturbing the audience than about plunging them into the contours of the conflicted mind of Burnham, extracting some brilliant and scathing observations in the process.
Burnham wrote, directed, edited and performed in this minimalist musical fantasy, shot exclusively in his Los Angeles home over the past year, and the result is an awe-inspiring one-man technical feat loaded with surreal twists and commentary. dense under the veneer of sophomore gags.
Burnham produces cheeky vulgar tunes that sound like ‘Sesame Street’ to George Carlin, but the overall premise clarifies the young comic book storyteller’s emerging worldview in vivid terms. With his acclaimed feature debut “Eighth Grade” behind him, Burnham essentially designed a microbudget feature on the last man on Earth to accept a reality that has already eluded his grasp. Quarantined and disheveled from the first scene, he goes through strange melodies and monologues about modern times, leading to a hilarious crisis of conscience gone mad.
From the moment he emerges at his keyboard, into a bland room lit by crisp white lights, Burnham’s frustrations with the nature of modern entertainment take hold. The same guy who became a YouTube phenomenon at age 16 has grown weary of what it means to keep audiences hooked to distract them from life’s darker truths. “Wide open,” he sings, “Here’s content. It’s a beautiful day to stay indoors. Before long he switched to a chorus that included the lyrics “What the fuck is going on” as he repeatedly pressed a laugh track button. Eventually, he addresses the camera to explain his intention to make a comedy show with the quarantine tools at his immediate disposal – or essentially destroy himself in the process. Just above her charming smile hides a strange gaze, and the ensuing journey lingers between those two extremes, as Burnham is about to have some fun to the death.
It’s not the most subtle vanity, but it’s not subtle moments, and the barrage of Burnham-inspired visuals and tunes equate to gallows humor perfect for an era that thrives on maximalism at every turn. . With his overgrown beard and unkempt hair, this skinny 6’5 ″ man (who’s set to play Larry Bird in an upcoming HBO special) cuts an obvious messianic figure and pokes fun at that impression with fiery perseverance. Announcing the absurdity of a “white man like me healing the world with comedy,” Burnham goes on to show that laughter is no balm; it’s a defense mechanism, and in its case, darkness continues to creep in.
At just under 90 minutes, “Bo Burnham: Inside” sometimes takes the listless quality of the quarantine routine at its center. However, whether or not you accept the weird tonal shifts and abrupt transitions between vignettes, the experience is a constant audiovisual thrill. From shifting aspect ratios to split screens, to magnificent experiences with light and shadow and a range of musical effects, Burnham has constructed an intricate tapestry of cinematic devices to deepen the psychological intrigue at play. amid the chaotic display, complex ideas erupted in the frame from unexpected directions. In one of his strongest pieces, he enters into a heated discussion with a Marxist Marxist on the genocidal nuances of Western civilization; in another, a bebop tune about unpaid interns develops in a hall of mirrors metaphysical sequence, with Burnham staring at himself onscreen, trying to make sense of what he’s doing here – only to tumble down further in the rabbit hole.
Burnham’s previous stage work included non-substantial punchlines that hinge on the shock value of an edgy subject (hey, here’s a gay joke!), Which often worked against the obvious media talent on display. Here, as he turns 30 in front of the camera and contemplates a bleak future, he strikes a balance between the silly and eerie nature of his stage presence and the evident advanced storytelling instincts of “Eighth Grade.” As with this film, it focuses on the dangerous lure of shutting down the world in an age of on-demand entertainment. And in this case, it is the distraction. “Apathy is a tragedy and boredom is a crime,” he sings. “Can I keep you interested in everything all the time?”
Burnham’s work here shares DNA with Maria Bamford’s “The Special Special” in 2012, shot at home with an audience made up exclusively of her parents. Yet “Bo Burnham: Inside” has no exact precedent as its whole tone emerges from an unprecedented moment in human history. His manic, passive-aggressive screen presence suggests that he has become cynical about creating art in a world that reduces it to a pure capitalist product. But he also excels at bypassing those borders. Burnham is hardly the figure of Jesus he looks like, but he’s certainly some sort of mad prophet for mad times. He might be in conflict over the world these days, but there’s a lot to be gleaned just by watching him figure out the meaning.
“Bo Burnham: Inside” is now streaming on Netflix.