Being privileged enough to see Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway with the original cast put my expectations for the film version on too high a pedestal that I was severely pessimistic when a film adaptation was announced, and a first trailer released. Now that the film version is out, my fears, along with everyone else’s came true. Dear Evan Hansen the film does not live up to the 6 time Tony award winning musical in any aspect. Why a film version is remotely necessary is one of the many questions going into it but the main concern centers around the lead of Evan (Ben Platt). Platt of course originated the role on Broadway which debuted in 2015, returns as the titular character in the film now 6 years older than he was while playing the same 17-year-old Evan.
2021 is the year of the musical. To date – In the Heights and Annette have made their way onto streaming services (In the Heights having the day and date release on HBO Max) while Tick, Tick… Boom and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story are coming by years end. Smack dab in the middle is Dear Evan Hansen. Platt, now 28, is 11 years a senior of Evan and aged well out of the range for portraying the character once again. And he certainly looks older than 28 thanks to the hair and makeup. He even looked old in the show version, but it worked since he was was younger and with a more age-appropriate haircut.
Dear Evan Hansen is not a good adaptation of a stage play to the screen. Very few capture the same spirit of the stage play –one being last years Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It’s one reason why video games don’t adapt well to the screen either. It’s difficult not to compare the two but some comparison is necessary due to the film being a hybrid musical. Only a handful of the songs written by Benjamin Pasek and Justin Paul made it to the film (mostly from the first act of the stage play) – Waving Through a Window, Sincerely, Me, Requiem, You Will Be Found are among the biggest of the songs that will draw fans of the stage play to the movie theater. The film versions of the songs don’t have the same emotional weight they had in the stage play; tone never changes leaving a bland taste in mouth when each song starts to when they conclude. Characters are only singing these songs out of necessity – they can’t emote their feelings in a conversational manner.
Platt as Evan besides the age is a great performance, he’s able to channel social anxiety well with his body language – constant shaking, self doubt in being heard and getting his voice out there, muttering and sliding his language and avoiding eye contact at all costs. The entire plot could have been avoided if Evan spoke up more – he eventually becomes comfortable enough to tell the truth but why not just speak up in the first place. Beyond Evan, the supporting cast surrounding him give performances on the same level as Platt but questionable casting leaves more to be desired. It doesn’t add up to have non-musical actors and actresses in a musical role.
But they tried right? The premise of Dear Evan Hansen is straight and narrow. Evan is a high school senior with social anxiety and depression as he lists how many medications he takes to Alana (Amandla Stenberg) who is tasked by his therapist to write letters of encouragement to himself to build his self-esteem… “Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be a good day” and so on. In writing a letter on the first day of school to himself, a fellow student Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) discovers the letter and commits suicide shortly after. Connor’s parents, Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Danny Pino) assume the two are best friends and wish to hear more about their friendship to keep Connor’s memory alive. Evan having zero interpersonal skills goes along with the lie which soon spirals out of control leaving him back where he started – isolated and alone.
The subject matter behind Dear Evan Hansen is quite depressing that holds weight with a lot of people. You are not alone. At some point in our lives, we all have felt the way Evan has. I certainly have which is why I identify so deeply with the music and the stage version, and the film doesn’t do much in helping those who may feel the way Evan does. Even is an unsympathetic character, never showing any remorse or a guilty conscience for the lies he told. He even enlists his best friend (obligatory family friend) Jared (Nik Dodani) in writing false emails between Evan and Connor to make the illusion appear true. All of these lies snowballed to make one person realize that Evan is alive – Connor’s sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever).
Performances from the supporting cast are solid – I’d go even further and say they outshine Evan. The only issue that plagues the supporting cast are the songs, it’s not Amy Adams or Julianne Moore (Evan’s mom Heidi) or Kaitlyn Dever singing. For marketing of the film, having three high profile actresses in these roles will get butts in seats but the better move would be to have musical actresses in the role instead.
Dear Evan Hansen is a total misfire in adapting it from musical to the silver screen. Ben Platt is way too old to continue to lay the role he workshopped and brought to life and the de-aging makeup amplifies the gap between actor and character (though his voice and body language are clear standouts of his with this character). Tonally – the film doesn’t have a clue whether to be completely serious and carry the heavy burden of choices on its shoulders or be funny and comedic. The song Sincerely, Me is too far out of place in the film version sending mixed signals for establishing an identity as that is the one true comedic song from the musical. Screenwriter Steven Levenson, who also wrote the book for the musical captures the emotion from the musical well enough but how he addresses mental health and how the characters treat it is another thing entirely.
“You Will Be Found” will always have a strong hold on me because of where my life was at when I first was invited by friends to see the show with the original cast. And the film version hit those same notes for me even if it isn’t the strongest song in the show.
Written By: Steven Levenson
Directed By: Stephen Chbosky
Music By: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul & Dan Romer
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Starring: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Amandla Stenberg
Release Date: September 24, 2021
Running Time: 2 Hours 17 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 32%
My Score: 1.5 out of 5
Based On: Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul