Review: Bo Burnham: Inside (2021)

Director/Screenwriter/Starring: Bo Burnham
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Musical
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Release Date: 5/30/21
Runtime: 1h 27
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Where to Watch: Netflix; limited theatres

Bo Burnham’s Inside — the comedy special he shot during quarantine, over about a year — is a difficult film to review, as it’s not so much a “film” as it is a reflection of the artist and a deeply personal piece. I’m reluctant to even classify it as a “comedy,” although it does have it share of laugh-out-loud moments. If you’ve seen Burnham’s terrific work in last year’s Promising Young Woman — my favorite film of 2020 — then you know he’s capable of more nuanced portrayals, and throughout this special, it becomes evidently clear as to how he was able to obtain such depth in that performance. In Inside, we see all the complexities of his personality and existence, with all of his vulnerabilities on display; if he were a woman, he’d be called “brave,” as is typical in this relatively sexist industry, but I’d call him brave nonetheless. It takes courage to film yourself at your most vulnerable and to show all your quirks and insecurities, and then to make it readily available to the public via Netflix. 

I sat down to watch Burnham’s special with the plan to pause at least once or twice, but I ended up getting so wrapped up in it that I watched it straight through (also, one of the dogs had his head on my lap, so I was stuck in that position). I really didn’t know what to expect, and all I’d really heard from others was that it was practically essential viewing (former Captain America Chris Evans praised it, too). It’s probably better to know as little about it as possible, so I’ll refrain from specifics. However, I will say that the special is rife with hilarious, entertaining, and sometimes sad songs sung and performed by Burnham himself. He’s neither a talented vocalist nor an accomplished musician, but his sound is pleasant and unique enough to keep things interesting. 

Some of the skits are very theatrical and heavily produced and edited, which is sometimes okay and sometimes a bit overdone. I might have preferred for the scenes to appear more off-the-cuff, although I was never bored. There are clearly some themes present and prevalent, for those who are interested in that sort of thing, but even though I’m a cinephile, I tend to not focus on that too much (or at all, really). And, I doubt that Burnham would be all that affected by vast amounts of criticism, as this is such a personal project that he’s probably just happy he finished it. 

I’m reluctant to officially review a movie that is so personal and crafted in a way that is specific to Burnham’s own sensibilities. Regardless, I will say that I’m not sure Inside should be marketed as a comedy special. As I said, yes, there are funny moments, but it’s not a typical comedy special that you’d see, either on a streaming service or aired on TV (the latter is a rarity). Perhaps this is also a good thing for Burnham’s Inside, as it bucks every convention imaginable and comes up with new bits that feel fresh, even if they sometimes feel too rehearsed. And, it certainly helps that we can pretty much all relate to his experiences stuck in quarantine, although not necessarily to the extremes presented in his special.