Dear Evan Hansen may not be the monstrosity of a movie musical that Cats was two years ago but exploiting suicide is unforgivable.
While Dear Evan Hansen may have been a Broadway phenomenon, the film is not the cinematic event that it claims to be. Ben Platt isn’t going to become an EGOT winner on this film and it’s not his fault. He may have been the right age for the role when he was on Broadway but he aged out of it a few years ago. No matter how well this production might mean, it lives and dies on whether we buy into actors playing high school students. I’m sorry but I cannot buy Ben Platt as a high school student. And if I can’t buy the actor playing a high school student, what does this mean for other people? It was just as weird watching Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls back in 2004. This doesn’t even begin to get into the film’s themes when it comes to suicide!
What drives the plot of the film is that a letter Evan writes to himself gets stolen by a loner classmate, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan). Connor kills himself shortly thereafter and his parents think than Evan meant something to him. Evan could tell Connor’s family the truth but decides to exploit the suicide. And of course, it only goes downhill from there by pretending to be someone he isn’t. Why?!? Exploiting a suicide is one of the musicals worst offenses. It is really hard to get beyond this. I can certainly understand why people didn’t like the stage musical. Sorry to use the phrasing but this musical lives and dies on exploiting suicide. Wrong in 2012. Wrong in 2021.
The film, much like the Broadway musical, stars Platt as an anxious teenager just wanting to be understood. Oh yeah, this is a film that’s made for the social media age. You’d think a film made for the social media age would translate better on screen! Unfortunately, this one just doesn’t quite make the translation, You know what they say, right? You win some, you lost some.
This film feels every minute of its’s two-hour-plus run time. I’m not quite sure what they could have cut out of the film but at just shy of two hours, my thought was: Dear Evan Hansen, how is this movie not even over yet? Does this speak to how boring the film is? Perhaps. There are certainly some good songs here–the film’s opener works better on the soundtrack than on screen with too many fast cuts. Not surprisingly, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul pen two new films for the song: “A Little Closer” and “The Anonymous Ones” (co-written with Amandla Stenberg, who performs the song in the film). You cannot adapt a stage musical into film without adding songs for hopeful Oscar nominations.
There’s a hit musical film waiting to happen for the social media age but unfortunately, Dear Evan Hansen is not that film.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Chbosky
SCREENWRITER: Steven Levenson
CAST: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, with Julianne Moore and Amy Adams