Synopsis: Bo Burnham special shot during the pandemic features lots of comic & serio-comic songs. (Streaming on Netflix.)
Bo Burnham has a lot to say. A lot to say about his state of mind in the pandemic year. A year-and then some- of being reduced to seeing others as vectors of a potentially deadly virus. Now we humans are plague vectors like flea-carrying rats. Dear God… it’s easy to see why Bo Burnham is depressed.
Bo did lots of brain work putting together his thoughts and crafting lyrics with sharp jokes. A couple of the musical standouts are the sorrowful “That Funny Feeling” which would feel melodically in place on Taylor Swift’s folksy pandemic year albums, and the banger ” All Eyes On Me” that encapsulates his own crucible.
Burnham put a year into writing, shooting, editing and directing Bo Burnham: Inside. “Just me and my camera,” he says. The comedian-composer filmed in his guesthouse which is def not staged for a showing; there are lights, equipment, keyboards and s**t all over the place.
On one hand, what a great creative endeavor. On the other hand, it’s like we’re witnesses to him skirting madness. How much beyond the songs and sketches are performative? He starts off sounding like he’s holding it together. Like the rest of us at home in quarantine, he looks comfortably disheveled. He does look strangely Jesus-ified. He’s not wearing robes and sandals, but his longish hair and facial hair make him look like one of those mid-century portraits where Christ is imagined as a fair complexioned, blue-eyed Teutonic man who has taken the summer off from cutting his hair. Fine. Let Bo be Bo.
Halfway through the special, Bo’s becoming unhinged as he struts around in his undies, lamenting losing his youth in “30.” I used to make fun of the boomers/In retrospect, a bit too much/ Now all these f***ing zoomers are telling me I’m out of touch.
Red mental health flags go up as the special winds down, with Bo wearing his heart on his sleeve on “All Eyes on Me.” He gives us wild-eyed assurances to come on in, the water’s fine, before delivering a confessional.
Thoughts… during filming, I hope he periodically took breaks where he would interact with his partner or dog to brighten his mood. I also think he needed –needs — to get outside. Granted, forest bathing is hard to do when you live in a region hard bitten by wildfires. But I’m guessing he has a yard with a tree or some plants.
Brilliant Bo has come a long way since his teen wanker days on Youtube. Bo Burnham: Inside is a mature work that delves into: the internet/social media, the state of the world, and his mental health. He also looks good in a unicorn onesie in the special.
HIGHLIGHTS! THE INTERNET/SOCIAL MEDIA…
On Welcome to the Internet the singer is a huckster offering us anything and everything, all of the time.”
With “Sexting”he coaxes a partner, We’ll use emojis only, we don’t need phonetical diction/We’ll talk dirty like we’re ancient Egyptians. This is truly safe sex. It puts me in mind of the New York City Health Department’s advice for the debauched slaggards still hooking up during the pandemic: No kissing and mask up. Oh and wrap your genitals, as per usual. No word on how intercoursers could abide by the six feet apart rule.
In the special’s best music video, “White Woman’s Instagram” Burnham mimics the aforementioned. He looks fetching modeling a flannel shirt that he has slipped off his shoulder, gleefully accepts a shower of balloons while images float by of a perfect avocado, a golden retriever in a flower crown, a bobblehead of RBG, a bounty of tiny pumpkins and latte foam art. Is this heaven or a white woman’s Instagram? he asks. Bo goes from tickling funny bones to pulling heartstrings when he switches from the titular person’s performative social media to bracing honesty; a photo of her mom and the caption, I can’t believe it/ It’s been a decade since you’ve been gone…I miss you… still figuring out how to keep living without you. See, sometimes you need to post the twee and precious to boost your mood!
At one point, our melancholy jokester lies on the floor, his head cradled by a pillow and using his last iota of energy, scolds humanity for letting Silicon Valley exploit our kids’ neurochemical drama. Are you laughing now?
HIGHLIGHTS! THE STATE OF THE WORLD…
Bo Burnham is a registered nihilist millenial. Or millenial nihilist. Still… he hopes to heal the world with” Comedy” But it’s a tough job what with the war, the drought/ the more I look, the more I see nothing to joke about. But joke he does!
So much gallows humor in ” How the World Works” Bo smiles and sings about how everyone and everything naturally works together. But when he enlists Socko the sock puppet to share his feelings, things don’t go as planned. Socko declares that the world as we know it is built on genocide and exploitation. For not toeing the party line, Socko gets yanked off Bo’s hand.
Burnham goes on to expose the ravages of capitalism on “Unpaid Intern” (Who needs a coffee? /Sorting papers, running around /Sitting in the meeting room but not making a sound). And he takes Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos to task in “Bezos I” and “Bezos II” whilst wearing a commodious swamp man suit.
In the prettiest song (melodically speaking), “That Funny Feeling” he concludes: The whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door/ The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all. Ouchhh. Just use the damned paper straws and save the planet, already!
HIGHLIGHTS! BO BURNHAM’S MENTAL HEALTH…
Two of Bo’s most personal songs– and best– are the very funny “30″ and the hypnotic “All Eyes on Me.”
Bo, used to being a young guy, finds himself on the cusp of thirty. On the eve of his birthday, he sits on a chair and stares at a clock that flashes 11:59 PM, conveying that this is how he is enjoying the rest of his twenties. He’s been working on the special for six months and wanted to finish by his birthday; he hasn’t.
Turning thirty means growing up, right? But Bo sees a chasm between himself and the adulting of his friends, as well as the maturity of earlier generations. In “30” he sings, When he was 27, my granddad fought in Vietnam/ When I was 27, I built a birdhouse with my mom. Good–no, great! Then, clad in only underwear, hand on his hip, Bo gets petulant, complaining that Now my stupid friends are having stupid children.
Just when you might get a bit impatient at his refusal to grow up, he throws this out: It’s 2020 and I’m 30, I’ll do another ten/ 2030, I’ll be 40 and kill myself then. Huh? Nooo! Don’t do it!
Burnham stops singing to assure the audience that he won’t kill himself and enjoins anyone with suicidal ideation to not do it either because there are people who love them… or people in the future who could love them.
Is he confiding or joking? He has a history of panic attacks and told us early on in the special that he thought diving into work would be a good distraction from feeling depressed. I wished that he felt like telling more jokes along the lines of the brand manager who asks consumers if they will join Wheat Thins in the battle against Lyme disease. Or asking Bagel Bites what they stand for.
Maybe he’ll feel better as he gets closer to finishing this creative project…
Nearing the end of the special he begins “All Eyes on Me” with a closeup of his face, eyes flashing as he launches into what sounds like a rave favorite, Get your fucking hands up/ Get on out of your seats/ Are you feeling nervous? Are you having fun?/ It’s almost over/ It’s just begun/ Heads down/ Pray for me
And then Bo stops singing to tell a story about his debilitating panic attacks. How he was finally feeling better after five years, but then the pandemic hit. It hit us all…
You say the ocean’s rising like I give a shit/ You say the whole world’s ending, honey, it already did.
Ok, so maybe he’s not feeling better. The pandemic has been tough for everyone and mental health struggles happen even when life should feel good.
Then again, maybe he feels better nowadays. He looks to be pleased when he determines that he has finished what he set out to do.
Watching Bo Burnham: Inside, full of humor and sadness, felt cathartic. I hope it was cathartic for the artist. And now, with vaccines and masks, we can leave the inside and get outside.
P.S. Important information about http://suicide prevention.
Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Compelling. Bo is funny and forlorn.
Humor Highlight: So much— the livestream of the gamer sketch stands out to me. Pick your own favorite.