Friday, September 24

Dear Evan Hansen Review

Dear Evan Hansen

Dir: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Nik Dodani, Julianne Moore, and Colton Ryan

2h 17m


"Dear Evan Hansen" makes its way from the stage to the screen, banking on its Tony award-winning success to translate its problematic subject matter into a moving musical movie sensation. 


Director Stephen Chbosky, who is no stranger to youth-focused drama, having directed "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "Wonder," has the unenviable task of adapting the stage content for the movie theater. It proves a tremendously difficult task as "Dear Evan Hansen," a story about adolescent mental-health concerns translated with musical numbers and teen rom-com sentiments, fails in finding its emotional pulse. 


The film opens with a teenage Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) writing a therapy-assigned letter addressed to himself. Evan, struggling with crippling social anxiety, among other undisclosed mental-health concerns, is reframing with positive affirmations about his final first day of high school. After being yelled at by a volatile classmate named Connor (Colton Ryan), Evan retreats into his loneliness, an existence of yearning for the girl he likes to notice him, eating lunches alone, and trying desperately to be more than just an invisible face in the crowd. 


One of Evan's self-addressed letters finds its way into the hands of Connor, who again challenges Evan in front of all their peers. The next day Evan is called into the principal's office and is informed that Connor took his own life. Connor's parents' (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) only clue is one of Evan's self-addressed letters. Believing Evan was Connor's only friend, the parents begin asking Evan questions about their relationship. Evan untruthfully fabricates a story that initiates a series of lies that grow greater as Evan propels into popularity. 


"Dear Evan Hansen" is a problematic film. The handling of a narrative centered on mental-health concerns for young people builds a complicated character at the core of its story. It asks the viewer to sympathize with a young person who manipulates a tragic situation. Along the bumpy path, Evan leads two grieving parents into falsehoods surrounding their deceased son while also using the problem to gain time and attention from the girl he has a crush on, who also happens to be the sibling of the boy who took his own life. 


The narrative handles issues of suicide, grieving, loneliness, and the impacts of social media on mental-health concerns with surface-level exploration. It's neither meaningful nor thought-provoking when the characters are offered minimal time to explore some of these concerns. It is often undercut by a musical number that pulls the emotion away from young people simply being honest with one another. It's troublesome, difficult to watch at times, and leads to a finale that doesn't feel at all earned. 


Ben Platt, reprising the stage role, is an excellent performer with a beautiful voice, but he doesn't pull off the look of a high school student. Platt has a few shining moments, primarily when tasked with carrying a musical number. Still, the subtle performance pieces surrounding the character's struggle and motivation are lost in the superficial narrative. Kaitlyn Dever, playing Evan's love interest Zoe, does an excellent job of balancing grief and hope. Playing Evan's mother, Heidi, Julianne Moore mostly disappears for much of the film but in her small moments provides a sense of gravity when questioning her son and a tender sensibility found in her struggle as a single mom. 


"Dear Evan Hansen" offers a few moments to discuss issues of mental health for young people. Most of these scenes happen between two characters, sometimes one sole character, with minimal emphasis on showy dance routines and without heavy-handed emotional coercion. Within these small, quiet scenes, the film brings valuable attention and an important message to the conversations surrounding depression, loneliness, grief, and coping with negative feelings. I wish there were more of this. Unfortunately, much of the adapted stage sensation fails to connect meaningfully with the situation and emotions found in the source material. 


Monte's Rating

2.25 out of 5.00

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