BO BURNHAM: INSIDE. I don't think I'm alone in having harbored hope that the past year — not to mention the four year season in purgatory preceding it — might give rise to a flowering of reactive art and culture. Maybe a period of collective isolation and simultaneous awakening, of tumult and unrest and uncertainty, could trigger a reactive renaissance, a vibrant period of art examining the traumas that have separated and somehow unified us. They say, after all, that a lot of great books have been written in prison. When one actually starts to make the list, though, the numbers are lower than "they" would have us believe. Confinement, isolation and cultural chaos might eventually feed creativity but in the short run, I think they siphon off much of the energy required to examine and create. And so, as with most hope in recent memory, my anticipation of a groundswell of imagination had dimmed.
Enter Bo Burnham, perhaps not the least likely candidate to countermand my sourness but an unexpected contender nonetheless. Burnham was one of the first YouTube-bred stars, a post-adolescent musical comedy phenom who ascended to prominence based on self-produced short-form videos. Because I am a relic, YouTube is far from a primary source to me. As a result, I am a knee-jerk skeptic regarding content native to that platform, as well as the creators it has made rich and famous. To further compound my cynicism, I've always found comedy-music to be one of the more precarious sub-genres, far more likely to induce mortification than laughter in most cases. Done well, I'll acknowledge, it can be a daring, satisfying enterprise. And Burnham can do it pretty well. But, at the peak of his fame and in the midst of a late-period comedy boom, he began experiencing panic attacks on-stage. As a result, five years ago and at the ripe old age of 25, he quit. In the intervening period, of course, he has appeared in acting roles and wrote and directed the astoundingly accomplished drama Eighth Grade (2018). He also, as he addresses in this new special, worked extensively and successfully on his mental health, making so much progress that in January of 2020, he decided he should start performing again. And then, well — and then.
Inside is the result of the ensuing year of Burnham's life and the product of an acid test for his emotional wellness. In isolation, he clung to creativity as a life buoy, tasking himself with producing a new special completely by himself. The work he produced — unlike any other comedy special, equally hilarious, painfully well-observed and sometimes shockingly raw — is both a testament to the power and necessity of creativity and a strangely concise examination of the pain and diminishing effects of isolation.
Defying easy categorization, Inside is a showcase not only for the joke and song craft of its creator, but also for his inventiveness as a conceiver of bigger ideas and as an editor and director. With a single room as his set, a few cameras, a laptop and an array of AV gizmos, Burnham builds a world that, if his honesty is to be trusted, is a manifestation of his day-to-day mental state throughout 2020. There are hilarious, topical new songs, moments of brutal self-examination, ruminations on aging and loneliness. It is a video diary with production values beyond many of the movies that make it to theaters in any (other) given year. It is, to my eye, the most pointed analysis thus far of what the world we have been living in has done to, and in some cases, for us.
There may not be an artistic revolution, but Bo Burnham has made a significant and lasting contribution. TVMA. 87M. NETFLIX.
PLAN B. I crow a lot about genre. That's partially because genre movies are often dismissed as being trivial or derivative (which is often the case), but also because if we use even the most basic principles of logic, every movie is a genre movie. Cinema is the ultimate form of artistic synthesis, after all, incorporating all preceding art and media, including all pre-existing movies. That is part of what makes movies great.
Which may be an overblown opening for a teen/sex/road-trip comedy, but Plan B is the type of meritorious debut that is too often and too easily dismissed because of the genre-pool from which it emerges.
Sunny (Kuhoo Verma), the high-achieving daughter of a high-pressure mom and Lupe (Victoria Moroles), a pastor's kid, are best friends on the social fringe of their South Dakota high school. When Sunny's mom goes out of town, the two throw a house party, partially in the hope of finally hooking up with their respective crushes. Nothing goes according to plan, Sunny has a regrettable sexual encounter and the following day finds them on the road in search of a morning-after pill.
The concept is a little by-the-numbers, but the chemistry of the leads, the cleverness of the script by Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan and the surprisingly assured direction of first-timer Natalie Morales, along with the undercurrent of restricted access to women's health services, elevate it beyond easy classification. TVMA. 107M. HULU.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
12 MIGHTY ORPHANS. A football coach builds a winning team at an orphanage in Texas during the Great Depression. PG-13. 118M. MINOR.
THE CONJURING 3: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT. Paranormal couple goals as Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson fight demons and witches in the scary continuation of the Conjuring dynasty. R. 112M. BROADWAY, HBO MAX, MILL CREEK.
CRUELLA. Disney nails the live-action origin story with style, from the stellar cast to mind-blowing costuming and sets. Starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. PG13. 134M. BROADWAY, DISNEY PLUS, MINOR.
F9. The franchise and its sprawling cast motor on with a long-lost brother and long-lost Han. Starring Vin Diesel and so, so many cars. PG13. 145M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD. Ryan Reynolds, Samuel Jackson and Salma Hayek crack wise and crack skulls in the comedy action sequel. R. 116M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
IN THE HEIGHTS. Adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical about a New York bodega owner (Anthony Ramos). PG13. 143M. HBOMAX, MINOR.
PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY. Animated rabbit (James Corden) hops to the big city. PG. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
A QUIET PLACE II. Emily Blunt returns to shush for her life and freak me out even more about leaving the house in a sequel that may have outdone its predecessor. PG13. 97M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ZOLA. A Detroit server joins a new friend for weekend trip to make quick money dancing but things spiral out of control. R. 90M. BROADWAY.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.