I recently saw Dear Evan Hansen, the new movie musical based on the Tony Award winning musical of the same name. It tells the story of Evan Hansen, a high school senior with severe anxiety who becomes caught up in a lie he tells about his classmate Connor Murphy who has committed suicide. While Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s soundtrack continues to be moving and beautiful, Dear Evan Hansen struggles to fully come together and find its tone.
I do think that individually, many of the actors in this film turned out solid performances. Amandla Sternberg’s anxious Alana really shines and I thought her expanded role from the musical was one of the few things the movie got right. Amy Adams and Danny Pino are very moving in their roles as Connor Murphy’s grieving parents and I wish we could have seen more of them. Julianne Moore and Kaitlyn Dever also deliver strong performances as Evan’s overworked mother and Connor’s sister, respectively.
Another good aspect of the movie comes from Pasek and Paul’s beautiful music. This songwriting duo is very well known for their work on hit projects such as The Greatest Showman and La La Land. Their work on Dear Evan Hansen is no exception, as almost every song is beautifully written and performed. Some of the most moving parts of the film come during the songs. Ben Platt, who plays Evan Hansen, is an incredible vocalist and his voice (rightfully) takes center stage.
Even before this movie came out, it garnered a lot of controversy online over its casting of Ben Platt. Although he had originated the role of Evan Hansen on Broadway there were numerous complaints over the fact that he was 27 years old playing a high school senior. There was also the issue that his father Marc Platt is the producer of this movie. Accusations of nepotism plagued this film even before it came out. I think that the main reason Platt looks so off in this movie is that they did not cast it around him. Fully grown adults playing teenagers is nothing new, but you have to be consistent in your casting in order for it to work. In another popular movie musical, Grease, all of the teens were in their twenties and thirties, but because they all looked old, suspending your disbelief was a lot easier and it didn’t look strange. In Dear Evan Hansen Platt just looks very out of place. His romantic interest, Zoe, is played by Kaitlyn Dever, who is only three years younger than him in real life but looks significantly younger. Add this to the fact that all the extras look like actual high school students and Platt end up looking very creepy. The way the movie tried to combat the problem of Platt’s age was through de aging special effects but this does not work. It leaves Platt looking waxy and overly smooth.
Another problem with the film is that Platt’s performance is not suited to a movie screen. He gives a very theatrical performance that while is effective on stage, is just uncomfortable to watch on the big screen. He very much feels like he is part of a very different movie than everyone else. Another problem is that his singing voice overwhelms everyone else’s. Because his voice is so incredible, everyone else feels lackluster in comparison.
I think that one of the main issues with the movie is it’s problematic plot. The main conflict of the film stems from the lie that Evan tells: he was secretly best friends with Connor Murphy, who recently committed suicide. He becomes very involved with the Murphy family and even ends up dating Connor’s sister. The movie does not seem to take a clear enough stance on his actions which is a serious problem. This is an awful thing to do but Evan never really seems to face any consequences for taking advantage of this grieving family. There are also problematic aspects in how the movie treats overall mental health, medication, and therapy. Multiple characters express how needing therapy and medication is something to be ashamed of and this opinion is never really shown to be wrong. It is very dangerous, especially in a movie marketed to teens, to
insinuate that there is shame in accepting help when you need it.
Overall, this movie just feels very rushed and disjointed. Characters breaking into song feels awkward and the attempted realism coupled with the musical numbers is an uncomfortable contrast. The movie never really seems to find its bearings and the magic of the stage show is sadly lost in translation.
Rating 2.5 out of 5 stars