We gather here today to settle not just one debate, but to start another. Let’s get one thing straight, Bo Burnham: Inside is a movie. Yes, it is also a stand-up comedian’s Netflix special. Typically, these would not be considered a movie at all. But, what Bo Burnham crafted for the streaming service is so much more than a casual comedy routine. Inside is actually the greatest filmmaking achievement of the decade.
How can it possibly be a film, I hear you ask through gritted teeth? Well, first of all it’s unlike any other comedy special in that there is no audience. This is not a stand-up show in front of a live-audience, this is a creative locking himself away for a year and producing the most personal and imaginative world for us to revel in.
With a runtime of 90 minutes, Inside ticks the box of a feature film. There’s also a narrative at the heart of it, albeit a somewhat abstract one, but a story nonetheless. Basically, I like to think of Bo Burnham: Inside as a magical combination of a musical, a comedy movie, and a documentary, and it’s a creation which excels in every area of filmmaking.
We’ll dissect that unorthodox narrative first, shall we? It may not be as exciting as action movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, and it may not be able to transport us to other worlds in the same way that the sci-fi movie Dune can. But, the fundamental basis of any good story is to make us feel something, and Bo Burnham: Inside certainly does that.
In fact, it evokes a whole range of emotions from its audience. We laugh, naturally, at the hilarious relatability of the ‘Facetime With my Mom’ sequence, or the cringeworthy uncanniness of ‘White Woman’s Instagram’. But, as the story develops, and Burnham’s own mental state worsens, we are forced to consider very important real-world issues.
The centuries-old power struggle of the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, is embodied in ‘How the World Works’, where Burnham employs a sock puppet to exhibit his inherent control as a white man. This bleeds into the much more specific references to Jeffrey Bezos as a symbol of the huge corporations that have consumers in a vice-grip.
The narrative throughline is clear to see, as Burnham later delves into the unimaginable evolution of the internet, from its humble beginnings to the limitless fountain of information it is today. We have everything we could ever possibly want, right at our fingertips, but it’s all become a little bit too much, hasn’t it?
Not only does the music provide such a strong backbone for the storyline of Bo Burnham: Inside, the songs are absolutely phenomenal examples of musical composition, too. The ingenious, incisive lyrics of tracks like ’30’, ‘Problematic’, and ‘Sexting’ are both hilarious and also display Burnham’s incredible knack for having his finger on the pulse of social dynamics. But, it’s not all about making people laugh with catchy tunes.
The more melancholic ‘That Funny Feeling’ exhibits Burnham’s ability to craft a more stripped-back song with a genuine emotional core. Even more impressive is that, the next song on his list is a certified club banger, with ‘All Eyes On Me’. To pivot from such a delicate, heartfelt song to an energetic indictment of the pressures of fame is testament to the versatility of the musician behind the madness.
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I’ve touched on the comedy value of this production already, but it really cannot be overstated; Bo Burnham’s razor-sharp mind has worked magic here. Comedy is such a difficult genre, mainly due to the sheer subjectivity of what is funny, and what is not. Admittedly, not everyone will find Burnham’s brand of humour to their tastes, but you cannot deny the incredible intelligence that is needed to be this silly and this funny at the same time.
It’s not just the things he says, it’s the way he says it. His fast-paced, matter-of-fact delivery of the various ways you can use the worldwide web in ‘Welcome to the Internet’ is so precise and theatrical that it will never fail to elicit a laugh. His facial expressions in the previously mentioned Instagram and FaceTime melodies are the kind of classic, subtle comedic nuances that are so rare to find these days.
This Burnham guy is beginning to sound like the complete package, right? Well, yes, to be honest. This is a very literal one-man-show. Of course, he has the might of Netflix behind him, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of making this thing a reality, Burnham has pulled a masterpiece out of nowhere.
Comedy movies aren’t generally renowned for their stunning cinematography, but Inside even excels there too. In such a confined space, Burnham creates spectacular light shows, breathtaking silhouettes, and the kind of shot composition that would make Sir Roger Deakins green with envy.
The opening song of the whole ensemble, ‘Content’, sets the tone for what’s to follow, with Burnham utilising a head-lamp and a disco ball to fill his tiny workspace with flashing lights. In a brief interlude between songs, a foetal Burnham laments the world we have built for ourselves, while surrounded by a mass of wires, in an exceptional display of his understanding for mise-en-scène.
Tying the whole thing together in the editing room cannot have been an easy task by any means, but it’s something that Burnham singlehandedly takes on once again. Even within the film, you can see his immense attention to detail, ensuring every angle, every cue, and every inch of his production is perfect.
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The end result is a journey which lingers when it needs to, cuts away when you least expect it, and leaves its viewer both in awe and feeling slightly invasive of its subject. For one man to do all of this could very easily have been a disaster. But, Bo Burnham did it, and proved that he is a genius.
To write such an acute exploration of our world, compose the musical soundtrack to accompany it all, deliver a captivating performance and be the sole subject of the camera’s gaze, and make it all look so beautiful too, is just an unbelievable feat of filmmaking, and that’s why Bo Burnham: Inside is an indisputable masterpiece.