Full disclosure: I have not seen the Tony-winning stage version of "Dear Evan Hansen." But judging by the movie version, I now have no desire to.
A 27-year-old Ben Platt - playing a high school senior and reprising his original role from the play - is the least of the film's problems. There isn't a note of truth in this misguided adaptation, so without ever having seen the play, I can plainly tell you that this film does not do the original material any justice.
Platt plays the title character, Evan Hansen, A nerdy teenager (ahem) who is battling severe social anxiety and depression. On the recommendation of his therapist, he begins to write letters to himself, starting each with "Dear Evan Hansen." One of his darker personal letters ends up in the hands of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), who ironically signs Evan's arm cast with his name in big block letters. Early on, Connor tragically takes his own life, and Evan's note to himself is mistakenly regarded as Connor's suicide farewell.
Things spiral out of control from there. Connor's sister is Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), who was mentioned in the note mostly because she's been Evan's long-time crush. He befriends the Murphys, Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Danny Pino), who believe Evan to be a close personal friend of their late son...why else would he address his suicide note to him? Evan leans in to the lie because, well, the story calls for it. A speech he gives about Connor eventually goes viral and Evan becomes an internet sensation. Amandla Stenberg also plays a role as the class president, who is more like Evan than he would have ever guessed.
Blah. The syrupy story is poured on thick, and even if you get used to Platt pretending to be a teenager simply by wearing a wig and slouching his shoulders, his interactions with the other thinly-drawn characters are blatantly artificial. Even the music disappoints, or at least the way the songs are portrayed in the film. Nearly every song includes the singer crooning by his or herself, with zero choreography or anything else visually interesting at all to compliment it. A few songs feel like they could have been spirited on stage, but they fall flat on the big-screen. The idea that the whole film relies on a misunderstanding to drive it forward reeks of an After School Special.
"Dear Evan Hansen" may have been a big smash on Broadway, but it implodes upon being adapted to film. When you think about it for longer than just a few seconds, the entire premise is a bit alarming, and even its themes about mental-health come across as insincere and unrealistic.
If you want to see a good musical, catch the tremendously inspirational (and funny) "Come From Away" on Apple TV+, a play that ironically, lost out to "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Tonys, but one that undoubtedly has gotten the last laugh.
Genre: Musical, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 17 minutes.
Starring: Ben Platt, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Amandla Stenberg, Danny Pino, Colton Ryan, Nik Dodani.
Written by Steven Levinson.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky ("Wonder," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower").
"Dear Evan Hansen" is in theaters on Friday, September 24th, 2021.
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