Just a few weeks ago it was announced that Be More Chill would be making its off-Broadway debut this summer, which I found really timely considering that it was only a few weeks before that that I had immersed myself in Be More Chill. On the recommendation of a friend, I looked up a Be More Chill bootleg (though the best one I could find was about 75% black screen) and then listened to the soundtrack on repeat. Be More Chill was first a book by Ned Vizzini, so I also checked out a copy from the library, and I thought it’d be fun to compare the musical and the book so you know a bit more before the show gets super popular on BWay. Warning for light spoilers.
Be More Chill is about a kid in high school named Jeremy who’s so tired of being a loser that he buys an ingestible supercomputer in the form of a pill that lodges in your brain and tells you what to do. This computer is called a Squip, and the story follows Jeremy as he rises through the high school ranks and tries to balance relationships between his best friend Michael, his crush Christine, and the popular kids with the help of his Squip.
Now, I listened to the musical before I read the book, and I wouldn’t have read it if I didn’t like the music so much. While I don’t think it’s the best musical ever and I could write a whole other post on what I don’t love about it, there are some cool songs and it employs a lot of neat synth/retro techno sounds so it is unique. The music is also very upbeat, and I always appreciate that. The music makes the musical, and I think Be More Chill does a good job taking this cool Squip plot and giving it life through songs.
Because really, if you take out the Squip, it’s just another high school coming of age story that is full of overdone high school tropes. The Squip and its incredibleness is the selling point of the plot. And it’s really needed, especially in the book because the book doesn’t have the music. What the book does have, unfortunately, is just a lot of awkwardness. The musical really toned down Jeremy’s cringey-ness. In the book, he keeps these tally charts of all his dorky interactions with classmates, and then he steals from his aunt to buy the Squip pill. Furthermore, he’s just a walking caricature of a typical high school boy in which he lusts over anything with boobs and is unable to have normal conversations with anyone, so it was a pretty uncomfortable read. Even the other characters had weird dialogue. Christine said weird things, and Michael was pretty underdeveloped and boring, and while Christine was odd in the musical too, she was a lot more likable there. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of Vizzini after this. So I’m glad that the musical changed and improved some of these aspects.
In regards to the Squip, there are some differences in its overall arc in the two mediums. In the book, Jeremy and the Squip just have some miscommunications and mistakes so Jeremy ends up getting rid of him. In the musical, it’s a lot more sinister, as the Squips try to take over. While this plot is a little cliche, at least there’s a problem to solve that keeps us interested, and at least it has a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense. The book’s ending feels very, very abrupt. But what bothered me the most about the Squip is that in both versions, Jeremy didn’t really learn anything. Like, there wasn’t some overarching message about being yourself or respecting women as people or not caring about popularity, and I feel like that would have been useful, especially in the book where Jeremy was just extremely ugh.
To conclude, I do not suggest reading Be More Chill. The book was just a load of awful awkwardness. The musical is a lot better and far less cringy. I hope it does well on Broadway because it is a fun show, and Will Rolland is playing Jeremy, which I think will be great. And if you can’t get to NYC, go listen to the soundtrack. The best song is ‘Michael In The Bathroom’ (it’s not as weird as it sounds).
Have you read or seen or listened to Be More Chill? What are your thoughts on it?
P.S. The Be More Chill book was also adapted into a play. I know this because when I was looking for a musical bootleg, I found the play, and only realized it was the play when twenty minutes in, there had been no singing. From those twenty minutes, it seemed to be exactly like the book, so I’m glad I exed out of that one real quick.