Updated: Sep 17, 2021
Film: Dear Evan Hansen
Starring: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Danny Pino, Nik Dodani
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Review: Klep Napier
Rating: 3X’s out of 5X’s
There’s been a tremendous amount of mixed reviews going around about Universal Pictures film adaptation to the Tony Award winning Musical, Dear Evan Hansen. We’re hear to tell you that where some of the rumors are true, a lot of them are extremely false. Dear Evan Hansen is a beat for beat, song for song replica of it’s original form only difference being on the big screen. So if you’re a fan of the stage show, you have little to no surprises left to uncover at movie theaters.
With minor tweaks such as character traits and three original songs swapped out and replaced by two new ones, Dear Evan Hansen still manages to capture it’s essence about an outcasted 17 year old, Evan (Ben Platt) suffering from anxiety and depression, who gets trapped inside his own web of lies when a letter he wrote to himself is mistaken as the suicide note from a school mate who took his own life. Because this letter is addressed to Evan, everyone thinks that Evan was the best friend of Connor (Colton Ryan), the “dead kid”. Now, Evan is more respected by peers, more popular in school and more loved than he’s ever been in all his adolescent life. But it’s all based on one terrible lie. He never knew Conner at all.
Now let’s get into the possible problems about the film. Aside from the fact that if you know actor Ben Platt and that he’s 30 something years old in real life, his portrayal is pretty convincing enough to accept the escapism. But if the only thing you see are grown people playing High Schoolers than maybe you should also avoid this and other musicals like Grease, Hairspray and West Side Story. Ben Platt was the original Evan Hansen on Broadway and besides the fact his name rings bells, his performance shows exactly why Director Stephen Chbosky agreed to bring him back.
Speaking of Chbosky (The Perks Of Being A Wallflower). It feels as though he struggles during the first act with tone. A lot of Evan Hansen plays similar to a dark comedy about a very serious subject (ie “Worlds Greatest Dad” starring Robin Williams). The first act plays like a campy high school musical on Broadway. It’s a bit cringe enough to make new comers look around and ask, “What am I watching exactly? I thought this was about a suicide.” Even Platt’s powerful opening with hit song “Waiving Through The Window” isn’t enough. Hopping back and forth from drama to upbeat tunes a bit too abruptly in the first half doesn’t effectively establish it’s tone and doesn’t do so until almost mid way through the film. And this leads us to Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan). In the play there still isn’t much for Connor’s motivations to stand on. And the first half of the film continues carrying that tradition, brushing us through to get to the moment Evan meets Connors parents for the first time. If you’re already familiar with this twist of events it’s not a very rewarding one as nothing more is established about Connor.
Ok now let’s talk about where it all picks up folks. Along the way you have established characters and met emotional performances from Kaitlyn Dever who’s portrayal of Zoe is a gentle pleasure, Amy Adams, Juliannne Moore and even Danny Pino. But the truly stand out performance must go to Amandla Stenberg as Alana who’s new original song “The Anonymous Ones” (Which replaced the song “Disappear”) Shakes your soul and puts you in your place. Now you know why you’re here, and you understand as you connect with where the story is going. After that we dare you to keep a dry eye. So much more is explored about the nature of Evan’s upbringing giving his motivations a little more to stand on. And as for Conner well, he may be gone but he is never forgotten throughout also giving a little more depth to the unknown about Conner Murphy.
Overall Dear Evan Hansen does exactly what’s expected of it. Merging today’s teen melodramatic quips with some comedic & musical runs. Balancing the weight of the humility we have, or lack thereof for each other. Providing a common ground that we can all stand on as we sing “You Will Be Found” in unison. Clarifying the expectations of grief - whether parents, siblings or friends. While ignoring traditional or cliche consequences for ones actions simply because all they wanted to do was to make sure everyone felt better than they did the day before. Even if that meant being the bad guy. There is much to learn from Dear Evan Hansen outside of its amazing soundtrack. This is a story about people first. The definition of human empathy.
Dear Evan Hansen hits theaters everywhere September 24th, 2021