From: Silver Screen

REVIEW: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is the feel-bad movie musical of the year for all the wrong reasons

REVIEW: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is the feel-bad movie musical of the year for all the wrong reasons
(L to R) Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) and Heidi Hansen (Julianne Moore) in “Dear Evan Hansen,” directed by Stephen Chbosky.

The premise of “Dear Evan Hansen” is a tough sell. 

It’s surprising that the Broadway musical this film is based on was such a massive hit. It won six Tony Awards in 2017, including best musical and best leading actor in a musical for Ben Platt, who reprises his star role for this film. The film adaptation, which arrives in theaters on Sept. 24, magnifies the inherent flaws of the lauded musical and brings into question why this story deserves to be told at all.

The plot revolves around Evan Hansen (Platt), an anxiety-ridden senior in high school who lives with his hardworking single mother (Julianne Moore). Evan has no real friends and he suffers from crippling anxiety and depression. His therapist assigns him the task of writing jovial letters to himself, starting with the words “Dear Evan Hansen,” in order to boost the confidence he sorely lacks. 

Evan’s life is turned upside down when one of his letters ends up in the hands of a loner classmate named Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan). Later that day, Connor, who is also struggling with depression, takes his own life. His grieving parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) find Evan’s letter in Connor’s belongings and perceive it as Connor writing to Evan, hoping it means their son did not die without a friend in the world. When Mr. and Mrs. Murphy question Evan about his friendship with Connor, Evan lies, spinning a false narrative that the Murphys cling to desperately.

The lies only pile up from there. Evan creates fake emails between Connor and himself to verify their friendship. He becomes romantic with Connor’s sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) and fills her head with stories about how much Connor admired her, when in reality he hardly ever spoke to Connor at all. And if that isn’t bad enough, Evan takes on the role of savior to Connor’s memory and later becomes something of a champion for mental health awareness. His classmates begin to notice him, and once social media gets ahold of all the good Evan’s doing, the country notices him too. He becomes an overnight sensation. Finally, after constantly worrying about being ignored, he’s seen.

And therein lies the rot at the core of “Dear Evan Hansen.” The film attempts to manipulate its audience into feeling sympathy for a character who personally benefits from despicable moral crimes. Evan chooses to lie to many people about his relationship with someone who took their own life. It’s unforgivable. And when the film finally gets around to Evan’s reckoning and redemption, it’s too little and too late. 

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Much fuss has been made over the internet about Platt being too old to play this role. However, his age doesn’t detract from the character— his performance does. Platt does nothing to tone down his stage performance for the screen. The entire character is an accumulation of nervous tics brought upon by Evan’s anxiety. These peculiarities explode off the screen. Subtlety is nowhere to be found. 

But, he does sing beautifully. The pop-centric score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is well suited to Platt’s phenomenal voice. 

If only that were the case for the rest of the cast, which is a collection of actor-non-singers, and boy, does it show. The music is catchy, hummable and moving, but most of the cast speak-sings their way through pieces that demand to be sung. 

Director Stephen Chbosky, who wrote and directed “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” clearly knows a thing or two about teen angst. The high school protagonist in his earlier film also struggled with depression and alienation, but those themes were handled with efficient delicacy and care. But “Dear Evan Hansen” is careless, especially toward families who have lost someone to suicide. Chbosky proves himself incapable of softening or validating Evan’s decisions to lie repeatedly. In the hands of Chbosky and Platt, Evan is a cringeworthy crooner, through and through.

Chbosky does, however, make some effective directorial choices. “You Will Be Found,” the film’s centerpiece song, effectively depicts the stark differences between the real and online worlds. The Murphys are seen making their way through life as the ghost of their son hangs off them like a shadow, while everyone else on social media attaches themselves to the grief as if it were their own. This depiction is an eerie reminder of the double lives we lead both online and off, and Chbosky effectively smashes the two worlds into one.

Unfortunately for “Dear Evan Hansen,” it’s not just a bad movie: Its release is poorly timed as well. Perhaps Broadway audiences in 2017 were capable of forgiving Evan for what he does to others; but in today’s climate, where accountability lives at the very center of our cultural conscience, Evan Hansen doesn’t deserve to get off easy.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is released in theaters today.

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