What is the most important element of an impactful and meaningful musical? Well…if you ask Dear Evan Hansen, it will tell you it is suicide! Yeah…such a strange concept to build a musical around. Evan Hansen must write letters to himself for his therapy but when a bully takes his letter and commits suicide, he decides going along with the misconceptions that others have for him. What set up a music? Certainly, wouldn’t be the first overarching concept I would go with, but they made a successful Broadway show out of it. But does this film continue that legacy and deliver a meaningful experience.
With such a sensitive concept to anchor your film around, does Stephen Chbosky deliver a worthy adaptation of Steven Levenson’s show? I will admit that I have never seen the Broadway show but this film will challenge you with the perspectives it provides. Who thought that the story this film tells was a good idea? This could have been a great cautionary tale about consequences for manipulating people…but Evan Hansen seems to be rewarded for doing next to nothing. Hansen’s actions are unspeakable and incredibly harmful to so many people, but the film continues to try and create sympathetic moments for this unsavory character. How can the audience root for someone so selfish and harmful?
But are these the only unlikeable and unsatisfying elements to the film? The runtime is excessive and does not need to be that long (especially when the screenplay is attempting to do so). One of the most glaring issues now is the poor casting of the original star, Ben Platt, in the film. Platt’s made-up face is unnerving and creepy which makes it even more challenging to connect with his character on top of his actions. Why not just hire a teen who can sing and act? There must be a dozen on every corner to choose from…but they went for star power. Even his singing can be a bit grating at times as well. Throw in a few songs that are just straight creepy and you get an uncomfortable cinematic experience.
There must be positives along the way though, right? First off, the emotions are high, and they are able to draw the audience in for powerful moments most days. I guarantee you that there will be a few audience members who will be pouring out tears for most of the film. When it really comes down to it, the emotional core of the film is pretty much there. The musical numbers are catchy which are reasonable to expect due to the beloved musical that this film is based on. Then there are the actors. Platt does a fine job all things considered. Lack of depth is really highlighted when it comes to their performances. Julianne Moore and Amy Adams do all that with the limited material that they have. The real MVP is Kaitlyn Dever who is complex and dynamic in the way she brings this character to life.
What an interesting case Dear Evan Hansen, is it not? This film made me angry at times because of how much Evan gets away with his horrible actions. He even has some uncomfortable moments to boot. But if you can get past that and just enjoy the emotional ride and the catchy tunes, you will get a fun ride out of this one. But for me, it was just too tone deaf and offensive…but that is just me.