Just say no to the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Deaver, and Amy Adams. How can the perfectly cast Ben Platt in the 2015 live musical be so miscast in the 2021 film?
Dear Evan Hansen is about a 17-year-old boy (played by 27 year old Ben Platt) who suffers from social anxiety and depression. He is a loner whose only friend refers to him more as a family friend. If the storyline sounds familiar that’s because you’ve seen this before with any coming of age movies.
The twist comes when Evan Hansen’s therapist encourages him to write encouraging letters to himself in third person. His mistake is using the school library printer to print his letter. An emotionally disturbed classmate, Connor Murphy (played superbly by Colton Ryan) finds his letter, grabs it and disappears.
Several days later, Connor commits suicide. His parents find the note and return it to Evan, thinking their son wrote it his only friend Evan Hansen. They want to know more about their son, so Evan goes with it. He fabricates an entire friendship because it makes the parents feel good. His connection to the dead student also makes him instantly popular in school.
Thus the second half drama from the rise and fall of Evan Hansen from social graces and his newfound popularity among his classmates and family. Throughout the film he goes through challenges, makes mistakes, learns from them, and then there is the eventual redemption.
Sounds like a tear jerker? Check. Sweeping ballads? Check. A-list supporting cast: Amy Adams and Juliane Moore? Double check.
So what went wrong?
In short, what sounds good on paper, particularly from a Tony Award winning musical, ends up feeling forced on film. The subject matter is dark. Someone said, let’s make a musical about suicide and teen depression and throw in sweeping ballads with a musically gifted cast. Check, check, and check!
But the end result is a film that is heavy-handed and a hard pill to swallow. The direction feels like it’s forcing you to take antipsychotic meds with no water. It is 2.17 hours of sappiness and slog, with a thin script that expects too much from the audience.
I consider myself a Ben Platt fan. I also love the Broadway recording soundtrack, and have been anticipating the release of this film. And although Platt gave it his all, the movie suffered from misguided direction and the poor casting of the lead character: Ben Platt.
He is too distracting to be believable. Maybe 6 years ago when a 21 year-old Platt could still pass for a high school student, but all the close ups in this film don’t help him one bit. He’s a 27 year-old playing 17 who looks like he’s 40. And with a movie that relies heavily on you identifying and relating to the character, the flaws make it too distracting for someone to care.
The film for the most part feels like a gigantic showcase for Platt the actor to be considered for an Academy Award nomination.
The one credit I will give Platt is his voice. Listening to Platt sing is like listening to an angel sing. I listened to the original Broadway recording and the motion picture album all day yesterday, and you can hear the difference and improvement in Platt’s vocal range. However, the orchestration in the movie was changed to sound more moody, which only added to the depressing tone of the film.
Overall, the film is one sappy ballad after another. The addition of the new song “The Anonymous Ones” (for Academy Award consideration obviously) is a good one. It is performed by actress Amanda Stenberg, adding some depth to her character. However, it is another ballad that starts sounding like the previous ballads. Although sung earnestly by the cast, too many scenes are shot in the same hallway and corridor that you can’t help but wonder if Rachel Berry from Glee will pop up in one scene.
Even established actors like Julianne Moore and Amy Adams were unable to give much weight and gravitas to their roles. By the time Moore sings her powerhouse ballad, you can hear the audience sigh from relief in anticipation of the film bearing its completion.
🌈🌈 out of 4
Dear Evan Hansen is Rated PG-13
2 Hours 17 Minutes