DEAR EVAN HANSEN
2021, PG-13, 131 mins.
Ben Platt as Evan Hansen / Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy / Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe Murphy / Julianne Moore as Heidi Hansen / Amandla Stenberg as Alana Beck / Nik Dodani as Jared Kleinman / Colton Ryan as Connor MurphyDirected by Stephen Chbosky / Written by Steven Levenson, based on his musical stage play with book
I fully believe that the makers behind the new musical drama DEAR EVAN HANSEN had nothing but the most noble hearted of intentions.
The film is, after all, based on the musical of the same name that won six Tony Awards and is directed by Stephen Chbosky, whom previously made one of the best youth oriented films of recent memory in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
Having said all
of that, within the first few minutes of DEAR EVAN HANSEN I just knew that
something was just really, really off about this film.
And of all of the films that I've seen in 2021 - and I've seen
many - this just might be the most cringe inducing, cheaply
manipulative, and thoroughly insufferable to sit through.
It ultimately pains me to say this, seeing as I typically love the
musical genre and most of what it offers.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN is not only tone deaf, but it fails at striking
any meaningful chord; I felt weak and numb after watching it.
The stage musical has a rather loyal and passionate fanbase. I get that. It dominated Broadway and went on to become a Tony Awards darling. I also get that. But I simply didn't get this film. At All. Period. DEAR EVAN HANSEN is so bloody wrongheaded in some many unfathomable ways that even taking notes during my screening wasn't enough to chart and navigate them all. Ultimately, the film is undone and undermined by three main variables: (1) The woeful miscasting of the lead (more on that in a bit), (2) the story and themes here never really cry out for musical treatment and (3) the themes contained within (chronicling everything from teen depression, suicide, processing trauma after tragedy, and dealing with mental health issues) are so pathetically dealt with here as a result of the sitcom level contrivances of the overall story arc. I think there is a story to be told, for sure, that deals with a downtrodden teen that has to come face to face with his intense levels of social anxiety and depression by finding unique outlets to combat it, but DEAR EVAN HANSEN is never once up to the task of exploring them thoughtfully and sensitively.
Some people may
be moved by this film. I was
move to run to the toilet and vomit for how difficult it was to sit
The titular main
character in Evan (Ben Platt) is a hopelessly and chronically shy and
introverted teen dealing with a multitude of health issues, mental and
physical. His overworked
single mother in Heidi (Julianne Moore) tries as she can to make life
better for her troubled son, but simply is not home enough to make a
sizeable impact. Evan also
tries desperately to connect with schoolmates and make friends, but every
attempt is an embarrassing failure. While
going through therapy, Evan is given an innovative assignment to deal with
life's challenges: He's to write letters to himself daily to spur on some
much needed positive energy. He
takes to it, but on one fateful day he's bullied by Connor (Colton Ryan)
and has his letter taken out of his hands against his will.
Feeling like the world is imploding on him, Evan tries to pick
himself up from his heated encounter, but his whole world gets thrown a
larger curveball when it's shockingly revealed that Connor was struggling
with intense depression...and killed himself.
Worse yet is that the dead kid's parents in Cynthia (Amy Adams) and
Larry (Danny Pino) found Evan's Dear Evan Hanson self-help therapy
letter and believes that Connor wrote it as a suicidal note for help...and
falsely think that Connor and Evan were secretly BFFs.
Now, Evan has a simple choice here when confronted by these grieving parents: He can just tell them that he wrote the letter.
Evan decides that
it would be best to play around and concoct a friendship with the deceased
Connor out of thin air, thinking that it'll make his parents find inner
It gets worse.
constructs layer upon layer of lies and social falsehoods (even going out
of his way to fabricate phony emails between himself and Connor), it
becomes clear that his whole deception is gaining massive word of mouth
and publicity in the school and town, and all while he's getting close to
Connor's sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), who he's been secretly pining over
well before Connor's demise (yeah...awkward!).
Things begin to drastically snowball for Evan when an anti-suicide
group run by a fellow classmate (Amandla Stenberg) begs Evan to speak at
Connor's memorial service, seeing as she and everyone else believes that
Evan was his closest mate. Predictably,
when Evan gives his speech it becomes the talk of the social media world
and brings in even more attention from outside of this town.
He's faced with a daunting challenge: Tell the world that he's a
total fake and face the repercussions (including losing the girl that he
loves) or continuing to sell his deception.
I have never seen
a teen centric high school drama so horribly cynical and borderline
creepy. DEAR EVAN HANSON
really wants to ring tears out of our eyes, but instead of doing so
naturally and organically it's almost as if the makers held out and peeled
onions right in front of the eyes of filmgoers to generate the same weepy
eyed response. I wasn't
having any of it. This movie
wants me to like and sympathize with Evan (he is, after all, dealing with
cruel mental health issues even before Connor's suicide), but this guy is
lies falsehoods against this poor family, all of which involve him getting
cozy and intimate with them...including the girl he's crushing on big
When he's not ingratiating himself to these strangers and making
them appreciate him, Evan becomes (God help me) a viral sensational
spokesperson for mental health and suicide prevention.
And in doing all of this he's showing not one ounce of sympathy or
understanding for these parents or their daughter and what they must be
going through. How could he?! Evan has so deeply distorted the truth that he just can't
escape from it. This
character doesn't deserve our understanding (especially when the film
reaches the unavoidable scene when he finally tells the truth to all).
He deserves to be in a straightjacket.
Evan doesn't commit his heinous acts to become famous, to be sure, but he
certainly does so in an unhealthily self serving fashion to be liked and
liked by many. I think that
Chbosky wants us to feel like he's the victim when his social crimes come
to the forefront because...well...he's a troubled young man.
Yup. Sure. Un huh.
You betcha. I want
to feel pity for him, but he's such a deceptive lout here.
The scripting, granted, doesn't do this thorny character any good
whatsoever because it doesn't have anything of tangible substance to say
about its themes. It's all
beyond superficial, and the film thinks it's being tactful and respectful
of these pressure cooker issues that affect so many young people today,
but - when it boils right down to it - Connor's suicide just comes out of
left field and is a manufactured plot device that lazily propels the
narrative (and Evan's deception) forward.
If there's a modest message to be had in DEAR EVAN HANSEN then it
would be don't lie about being a buddy to a sad teen that killed
himself. As for
the story exploring the minutia of teen suicide, cyber bullying, and
(later on as an added kick to the baby makers) poverty/class shaming, this
film is severely out of its league.
Within seconds of
seeing Platt on screen and seeing him belt out this musical's first tune
it became clear how laughably and inappropriately he was cast here.
That's a double edged sword statement, because the stage
role did originate with the actor to vast rave reviews and a bounty
of awards, but he's 28 years old...and he looks even older than
that on film (not a shot at his physical looks, but rather for his
maturity) playing a part of a 17-18 year old.
I could not buy him as a high school student here.
I found it impossible. All
throughout DEAR EVAN HANSEN I was consciously aware that an adult pushing
thirty was trying to pass as an adolescent.
And yes, many, many films of the past are guilty as charged
for having old actors play young (especially in high school films) and
Platt's co-star in Dever is just two years younger.
But here's the thing: Dever looks thoroughly credible as a teen,
whereas Platt does not. When
the movie has scenes of intimacy between them it comes off as icky instead
of sweet and touching. In Platt's defense, though, his vocal talents are indeed
immense (I can see why his work was so well respected on stage), and he
carries the film's songs resoundingly well, but his casting pathetically
tanks the good will of the music. When
you don't buy the casting of the lead then you can't buy anything else
built around him.