This pandemic season has seen many incredible new releases, however, nothing has been as groundbreaking as Bo Burnham’s Inside. This movie is a comedy special that premiered on Netflix on May 30. While this hour-and-a-half-long comedy special was shot, directed and written by Burnham, single-handedly, it’s no silly passion project. Instead, Inside is an artistic deep dive into the human psyche. It offers commentary on the dark decline of humanity, mental illness and the sneaky dangers of the online world, all while bringing comedy to the forefront.
Along with acquiring six Primetime Emmy nominations, Inside was granted a limited theatrical run. Initially, it was supposed to be a one-day-only event on July 22 but due to heightened interest, it was been extended to include the following three days (July 23-25).
Bo Burnham isn’t a new name to the Netflix scene. He has two previous specials on the streaming platform called what. and Make Happy. These specials were filmed in front of a live audience while he toured around the world, bringing laughter and musical comedy to multiple cities. Throughout this time, he kept his signature dark and raunchy sense of humor, never once being accused of watering down his public persona or “selling-out” to create more palatable content. If there’s one thing Bo Burnham is, it’s consistent. Just ask the Rotten Tomatoes certified critics who scored Make Happy at 100% and Inside at 92%.
This is to say that Inside checked all of the boxes when it comes to Burnham’s repertoire; it has numerous sex jokes and brief references to one’s declining mental state, suicide and erratic behavior, and it also has some insanely sick beats. However, Inside features something rather new for Burnham fans: A “inside” look into his artistic mind and creative talents. During the one-man show, he uses his iPhone light and common objects found around the house (or in his case, a weird little backyard shack) to add flourishes to the screen. He also employs unique angles and dramatic close-ups to deliver some of his most profound messages.
Seeing Inside in theaters was a full-blown experience, unlike many others. In hindsight, it took a while to get used to, despite knowing exactly what to expect. Personally, as a reviewer who has seen the movie about ten times and knows the soundtrack by heart, something is jarring about viewing a solo artist with a very YouTube-esque style of editing and a juvenile sense of humor on the big screen. That being said, showcasing the special in theaters was probably one of the greatest decisions made by Netflix and Burnham.
‘Inside’ the movie theater
There are many moments throughout the theatrical viewing experience where Burnham’s artistic image and sound shone far more than it did while watching Inside on a smaller screen. The backing vocals and heavy pulse of his music blended excellently over the theater’s surround sound and his troublesome state was ridiculously amplified on the larger screen. As cozy and personal as Burnham’s delivery is, seeing him up-close was much more harrowing than expected. There’s just something about watching a 30-year-old man with a scruffy beard, on a massive movie theater screen sing, “It’s 2020, and I’m thirty, I’ll do another ten, 2030, I’ll be forty and kill myself then.” No matter how quick the jump cut is, it takes a while to bounce back from that.
Walking out of the theater was a solemn experience, as is Inside’s ending. Throughout the musical comedy, Burnham’s progression can be summarized in two quick lyrics. In his opening songs, he sings, “I wanna help to leave this world better than I found it.” But by the end, he aggressively crones, “You say the ocean’s rising like I give a s**t, you say the whole world’s ending, honey, it already did.”
One moment, the audience is watching a man confidently pour his heart out to a camera, while also employing a very millennial and self-deprecating sense of humor. And the next, the spotlight shows him sitting naked at his piano, peering at the camera.
One our way out of the theater, Monsters & Critics spoke with a father-daughter pair who also saw the special. First, asking for validation that the musical number “Sexting” was way better on the big screen than it was on the television (it was) but then having a conversation about the collectiveness of Inside. Teasing her father, the daughter of the duo said, “I thought he wouldn’t like it because it’s so artistic.”
But then, the elder movie-goer passionately shared that it was the collectiveness of Burnham’s message that kept him entertained. It was the fact that “we’ve all felt this way,” and as Burnham alludes to, this collective feeling of dread has been increasingly heightened during pandemic times.
What Burnham represents is the general population; those who find themselves lost and confused while transitioning into adulthood, the 1 in 4 American adults who struggle with a diagnosable mental disorder, and those who would rather laugh than cry about the shoddy life they’re living.
Inside is currently streaming on Netflix and playing in theaters from July 23-25.