Review: "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" Exists for the Express Purposes of Showcasing Its Own Fandom

by Derek Deskins

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 17, 2020

'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme'
'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme'  

While documentary and narrative films have their differences, at a fundamental level they are still movies. As a movie, there is a very basic expectation that the filmmaker has something to say. This is the deal we've made with filmmakers: You have something worth saying, we'll watch. But with documentaries, this agreement can go forgotten.

We think of documentaries as accounts of real life and that a recounting of reality can be enough. But a great documentary does not rely purely on history. They give us a reason for the movie to exist: a message, a purpose, a point of view, something. I'm still not quite sure why "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" needs to be a movie.

Before "In the Heights" won four Tonys and before "Hamilton" took over the world, Lin-Manuel Miranda was a kid that liked to rap with his friends. That love of hip-hop and performing eventually became Freestyle Love Supreme, a hip-hop improv collective and show. "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" tracks the group from its humble beginnings to its inevitable Broadway stint.

I have to be honest, I have a strong bias in favor of Freestyle Love Supreme. Growing up a musical theater kid that wasn't all that enthralled by traditional musical theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop infused take on the genre blew my mind. I devoured anything Lin-Manuel Miranda produced (up to and including his rejuvenation of "The Electric Company"). So it is with that enthusiasm that I express my disappointment in "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme," a movie that seems to exist for the express purposes of showcasing its own fandom.

The film proceeds very linearly, tracking the group's simple beginnings all the way to the present. While it could be seen as some kind of historical record of the life of Freestyle Love Supreme, it doesn't actually function well in that regard. First-time feature director Andrew Fried isn't all that concerned with what went down or any kind of turmoil within the group. Instead, what he presents is a 90-minute love fest, one in which each member is afforded the time to revel in their own skills, rather than delving into anything that could be construed as uncomfortable. For those fans of Freestyle Love Supreme, you will leave the film with no new context, no new information, nothing that you couldn't glean from about 30 minutes spent on Google. For those just now discovering Freestyle Love Supreme, well you aren't going to get much either.

"We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" is infatuated with its founder, Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's an understandable obsession, as the multi-hyphenate is a pillar of talent that is now ubiquitous in the industry (not to mention his predilection to radiate pure positivity). However, Freestyle Love Supreme is not just Miranda. That doesn't come across effectively in the film. Other members of the group are given some lip service, while others are forgotten entirely. But these other members are far more interesting than Miranda's tale of success, in the context of the group. "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" has its strongest moments when it focuses on Utkarsh Ambudkar (aka UTK the INC) and his struggles with addiction or Anthony Veneziale's (aka Two Touch) clashes with director/friend Thomas Kail. But those moments are fleeting, often traded for superficial and masturbatory self-congratulations.

As a documentary "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" lacks anything exceptional. But a failure of a documentary is not necessarily a failure of entertainment. Although, that is not true in this case. The film's greatest failing is its inability to give the audience what it wants: Freestyle Love Supreme in action. Moments of the shows are glimpsed but it's never satisfying, a small oasis in a desert of repetitive talking heads.

For fans of documentaries, "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" proves what we've long shouted: regardless of the subject, making a good documentary is hard. "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" is not reflective of the growth of Freestyle Love Supreme or even Lin-Manuel Miranda's career. It is a film without a purpose, a movie so enamored with its own subject matter that it is incapable of saying anything of note. "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme" is a feature length high school video yearbook that serves no other purpose than to revel in nostalgia.