Dear Evan Hansen

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

These days it’s far more likely for a popular movie to be turned into a Broadway musical, but I long for the time when the hit Broadway musical came first and then became a great film. West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music are perfect examples of this. It rarely happens anymore. Sorry, but Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys, Rent and Rock of Ages were turned into terrible movies. Les Miserables and Dreamgirls are more recent examples I did enjoy and interestingly it occurred again this very year. In the Heights was a solid production. Back in 2017, Dear Evan Hansen was nominated for 9 Tonys and won 6 including Best Musical. All the critics loved it in New York at the time, but it’s a complete bummer of a movie now.

This coming-of-age tale had everything going for it. (1) The film is an adaptation of Steven Levenson’s multiple-award-winning stage play, (2) it’s directed by Stephen The Perks of Being a Wallflower Chbosky, and (3) features the songwriting duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who composed the music for La La Land and The Greatest Showman. I was primed to love this.

Evan Hansen is a teenager who suffers from severe social anxiety. We’re talking apprehension so intense he has trouble ordering a pizza. His therapist recommends that Evan write letters to himself detailing what will be good about each day. In his latest “Dear Evan Hansen” message, he regrets that it wasn’t such a great day after all. For one, he aspires to know school crush Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) better. “Maybe if I could just talk to her” he laments. He also wishes that anything he said mattered, to anyone. Would anyone notice if he just disappeared?

The sequence of happenstance and coincidences that follow could only transpire with help from a writer. Evan goes to the library to finish and print the correspondence to himself. While attempting to retrieve the letter from the printer, he runs into Zoe’s brother, Connor (Colton Ryan). He’s another marginalized classmate going through some pretty weighty issues of his own. In an effort of goodwill, Connor makes small talk with Evan. He even signs the cast on Evan’s arm. In doing so, he inadvertently finds and reads Evan’s message sitting on the printer which mentions his sister Zoe within the text. Sensing something insidious and feeling tormented, Connor grabs the letter and storms out of the library.

Three days later, Evan is called to the principal’s office where he discovers Connor committed suicide. There he meets Connor’s mother Cynthia (Amy Adams) and his stepfather Larry (Danny Pino). Cynthia gives Evan the personal letter that was found on Connor — construing that her son wrote this as a suicide note for Evan. Although Evan attempts to correct and explain, Cynthia and Larry are deeply touched by the correspondence. They believe Evan to be Connor’s only friend and they derive deep comfort from this idea. Understandably, Evan can’t bring himself to reveal the truth to Connor’s parents. His heart is in the right place. Instead, he propagates the lie with the help of his classmate Jared (Nik Dodani) out of a desire to further console his grieving parents.

Evan Hansen’s lie begins to have a positive effect on everyone. It becomes a blessing in his own life as well as within the Murphy family. They rediscover the son they never knew. Heidi and Larry’s marriage is strengthened. Meanwhile, their love for Evan provides the welcome support of a traditional nuclear family that Evan so desperately craves. This concerns his single mother Heidi (Julianne Moore), although she is still presented as a loving and supportive parent. Unfortunately, Heidi is frequently absent, constantly working simply to make ends meet. That’s admirable. Nothing wrong with that. Actress Julianne Moore is compelling in the role famously portrayed by actress Rachel Bay Jones on Broadway. Jones won a Tony for her achievement.

Live theater and movies are such different things. So let’s address the elephant in the (social media) room — Ben Platt’s much-maligned inability to pass for a high schooler. He’s 27 and for the record, I don’t have a problem with that. The principal actors playing high schoolers in Grease — one of the most beloved musicals of all time — were all at least in their mid-20s. Heck Stockard Channing was 34 when she played Betty Rizzo, and she was fabulous. What I do have a problem with is Platt’s cloying performance. It’s manic, overwhelmed by facial tics and twitches. He’s trying too hard. His hunched shoulders and cutesy expressions convey neediness. I guess that worked in the play where he was playing to the back of the house. Cinema is more reliant on subtlety. Platt is way overcompensating for his age and it’s distracting.

So what about the music? I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the most memorable songs. “Waving Through a Window”, “For Forever”, and “You will Be Found” are pleasant enough and Ben Platt is a competent singer. I’ll give him that. The real standout selection — in the movie anyway — is “Sincerely Me”. This is the moment where Evan enlists his friend, Jared, in creating fake backdated emails between him and Connor to corroborate his story. It’s the only production number featuring a sadly underused Colton Ryan. Their imagined camaraderie and friendship is one of the few moments where the film elicits pure joy.

Dear Evan Hansen is two-thirds of a good movie. It’s times like this, I wish I was a script doctor. I would’ve loved to get my hands on Steven Levenson’s screenplay. Before the final act, I was ready to give this film four stars. I found it a clever conceit how a little misunderstanding benefited everyone. Then the plot takes a fatal turn. A classmate named Alana Beck (Amanda Stenberg) senses some inconsistencies within Evan’s story. She confronts him about the veracity of his friendship with Connor. Everything from that moment on was a quick plunge into an epic fail. A sweet, uplifting tale descended into a funeral dirge on a dime. Like I got whiplash at how fast my joy turned to sorrow. By the end of the picture, I felt betrayed.

09-23-21

** POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD ***

It’s difficult to explain the extent of my disappointment without divulging specific details of the plot, but I can explain the nature of my frustration with an analogy. If your best friend has a baby and that newborn is shall we say, less than attractive, I see no harm in “misleading” them by saying their infant is beautiful. I would continue to promote that so-called “lie” because it harms no one. It merely creates happiness and preserves the friendship. Writer Steven Levenson is not of that mindset.

8 Responses to “Dear Evan Hansen”

  1. I actually don’t have a problem with the whole fall-from-grace part (I haven’t seen the movie, I just mean the concept), because is it not a cliche of this kind of story? I would have thought the stage play would end the same way? Unless the writing changed significantly. Either way this does sound like a bummer of an experience and that rare case where maybe a white lie should be left alone. I guess the real question is how white of a lie is it to keep the hard facts from the parents

    Liked by 1 person

    • You bring up excellent points.

      A “fall from grace” is necessary in a story where the character has done something bad and must be punished. I didn’t require it here simply because Evan was a victim too…of circumstance. He chose the path that allowed for the greater good. I thought he behaved admirably.

      I know the movie hasn’t been well received but critics have largely complained about completely different issues that have nothing to do with the problem I had with the ending.

      Liked by 1 person

      • People are honestly piling on this movie to a degree that makes me think this movie isn’t that bad. It’s just become trendy to hate on Ben Platt. It’s fashionable to burn the guy at the stake. If Letterboxd is anything to go by.

        There is one particular review on there that stands out. It’s written by a very lonely seeming woman named Esther Rosenfield. Here’s a sampling of her vitriol, which I think is only microcosmic at this point:

        “Probably the most remarkable thing about this film is that you never really get used to the fact that he looks like that. Even in the late minutes of this 137 minute film I was jolted by occasional cuts to Ben Platt’s puffy, doughy visage, newly horrified by his Inland Empire-esque facial contortions and body language that has only been seen once before in cinema: in F.W. Murnau’s expressionistic classic Nosferatu.”

        It gets much worse from there. It’s a review that has garnered 6k likes and ranks as one of the most popular reviews on Letterboxd. I personally thought it was a disgrace of an overreaction and quite honestly goes to the edge of good taste.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh wow. That is a take.

        Lots of disappointed reactions to the film but I haven’t read a single review that thinks he should’ve kept the “lie” a secret.

        On the contrary, many feel he should’ve corrected Connor’s parents immediately. Of course then there would be no movie. 😆

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel's Reviews Says:

    It’s definitely a mixed bag. I do love the music so at least there is that

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This could’ve been an excellent movie if it had a few changes. I like the songs a lot, but that ending. Hmmm. I would give it. 3 ⭐️

    Like

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