When the powers of superproducers combine, we can expect huge movies to be a-brewing. At least, that’s what it feels like knowing that the perennially busy Shawn Levy (Stranger Things, Arrival) and Greg Berlanti (DC’s Arrowverse, Love, Simon) are joining forces to bring a brand-new musical to the big screen. This won’t be just any traditional mega-hit either. Their adaptation of Be More Chill will literally feel fresh to many, seeing as this particular stage production hasn’t even premiered on Broadway yet.
Be More Chill only lands on the Great White Way in February 2019. However, Deadline reports that Levy’s 21 Laps and Berlanti’s Berlanti Productions have already snapped up the opportunity to make a movie musical based on this viral hit that has captivated musical theater fans worldwide since 2015.
Let’s have some context to preface all of this. The cast recording of Be More Chill has been streamed over 150 million times in the United States to date. Plus, as with all true litmus tests of popularity these days, fanfiction and fanart are aplenty online. These artists are found all over the world. The show, which sports a high school-set premise with an uncanny tech-related twist, actually just wrapped a wildly successful limited off-Broadway run in September 2018; one that sold out before its first performance. Basically, this musical has become a cult phenomenon.
The stage version of Be More Chill was in itself adapted from Ned Vizzini‘s eponymous young-adult novel, with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis (NBC’s Smash) and book by Joe Tracz (Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). At the musical’s core — and the center of the fandom hoopla — is the age-old story about a social outcast yearning to be accepted. Be More Chill just so happens to be updated for the anxious internet age.
The protagonist Jeremy is a Gen Z high schooler with a slew of self-esteem issues. He has a best friend named Michael, a fellow outsider, but doesn’t know how to speak to his crush Christine in any capacity, although he desperately wants to date her. So, when school bully Rich reveals the tricks of his popularity trade — that he, in fact, has ingested an illegal supercomputer called a super quantum unit intel processor (SQUIP) that lives in his brain and instructs him on all things cool — Jeremy is enticed. He then obviously takes this Black Mirror-esque bait, consuming his own personal SQUIP. The result? A figure who looks and sounds very much like Keanu Reeves now controls Jeremy’s every move.
Despite the fact that there almost seems to be too many thematic elements playing off of each other in Be More Chill, the musical doesn’t actually muddy itself or crash under the weight of its ambition. Even to many of us who haven’t had the opportunity to see the production live, its catchy pop-rock riffs and wordy, robust songs filled with pop culture references tell a truly effective story. While the tunes can truly be laugh-out-loud hilarious, they are also certainly astute with its groupthink-averse message scribbled between the lines.
The simultaneously off-beat and creepy tech-related plot devices of Be More Chill combine to comment on numbing conformity and social media dependency. However, these aspects of the musical work much better given that they are complemented by a whole lot of heart, too. Jeremy, Michael, and Christine can be as lovable as they are off-kilter. Most importantly, they are relatable as they navigate these struggles of teendom, especially during rare moments when the frenetic music fades into something more straightforward and contemplative.
Obviously, the sensational response that Be More Chill has enjoyed in the last three years speaks for itself. But if not, Levy and Berlanti consistently shepherd their fair share of pop culturally relevant work within Hollywood.
Between Stranger Things and Love, Simon — arguably their best work respectively — both filmmakers display a knack for telling vital stories about 21st-century youth culture. Sure, Stranger Things involves a superpowered girl facing off a Demogorgon from an upside-down parallel universe. In comparison Love, Simon is more grounded but it also operates as a sugary-sweet rom-com with all its limitations.
Regardless, these projects hinge on the choices that young people make in order to assert agency in their own ways and I’m not surprised that Levy and Berlanti specifically tuned into that equivalent value in Be More Chill. The musical does something relatively similar with a version of enhanced reality, using quirky themes and premises to draw us in initially before more heartfelt and resonant storytelling takes its place.
The deliberate timeliness of Be More Chill is specifically geared to the way in which much of the world integrates technology into its daily diet right now. Hollywood has always loved musicals (and clearly continues to commission many), but the unprecedented support from big-name producers for a cult hit like Be More Chill presents something innovative, renewed, and invigorated to the traditionally-appreciated medium of song and dance. Levy and Berlanti have definitely struck gold. All I ask is that, somehow, someone actually gets Keanu Reeves to cameo in this.