- Young Critic
Dear Evan Hansen
This misdirected adaptation of the hit musical is a cringey watch
Broadway hits don’t always translate well to the screen. This can be because of a lack of imagination in using cinematic tools, or simply because the film and theater crowds are different. Thus, producers are surprised when hit shows are turned into flopped and criticized films such as The Prom (2020) or Cats (2019). The latest attempt to cash in on a Broadway hit is the woefully misdirected Dear Evan Hansen (2021).
Dear Evan Hansen, is the story of Evan (Ben Platt), a shy and anti-social high school senior who becomes embroiled in a series of misunderstandings surrounding the suicide of another student named Connor (Colton Ryan). Connor’s family, including Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) who Evan likes, are under the impression that Evan was Connor’s best friend, when in fact they barely knew each other. Desperate for connection, Evan goes along with this perception, enlarging his lie and deception until he loses control of its narrative.
Dear Evan Hansen was a hit on Broadway in 2016, making a star out of Platt (who originated the stage role as well and won a Tony for it) and building a rabid base of fans. The musical talked about taboo subjects such as mental health and teen suicide in unabashed terms. This seemed like a rather meaty subject to translate to the screen, however, each decision in the adaptation process seemed a faulty one.
Dear Evan Hansen is directed by Stephen Chbosky the multihyphenate whose last films included the enjoyable The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) (adapted from his own book) and the exploitative pity-pornWonder (2017). Chbosky fails to capture the potential of a musical on screen with Dear Evan Hansen, staging numbers in the most unimaginative ways possible. One number simply involves Evan singing while sitting at the dinner table as Connor’s family awkwardly watch along. Other songs are blandly staged as characters walk through hallways. Even the hit song “You Will Be Found” is filmed through constricted iPhones. Chbosky seems to want to ground the dark material of suicide and mental health with a realistic tone, but as a result makes each song seem tedious and boring to watch.
This commitment to a certain seriousness also works against core aspects of the film. The most important of which is the entire premise. Viewers are supposed to be rooting for the underdog Evan, as he clumsily tries to comfort a family with fake memories of their dead son/brother. However, by being so timid in crafting these crucial moments of sadness and misunderstanding, Evan comes off as a sociopath taking advantage of a grieving family in order to gain attention and get into Zoe’s pants. This makes viewers despise him, seeing him as a selfish and cruel manipulator. This overtakes any of the important themes of the film regarding suicide and mental health, so that you are horrified at the protagonist’s actions instead.
What most viewers will be impacted negatively about Dear Evan Hansen, however, is the casting. One important problem is the complete lack of chemistry amongst any of the characters. There is a strong cast, with the likes of Dever, Julianne Moore, and Amy Adams trying their best; but there is no spark in character interactions. Supporting roles feel unnecessary and every relationship appears inauthentic. However, the main problem in the casting is with Platt. Platt was astounding as the stage version of Evan Hansen, but the actor has grown a lot since his stage persona and appears way too old to play a high schooler. Reportedly Platt had to shave multiple times a day to give off the appearance of a teenager, but no matter how much he hunches over and applied pale make-up, he looks too much like a grown man. This works against the film in multiple ways. For one, the entire performance from Platt feels stiff, so that viewers are unable to see past an actor pretending to be young. Another big problem with this casting choice is the creepiness of it all. Evan looks like a perverted older man, lying and manipulating his way to woo the much younger-looking Dever. While older-looking high schoolers have worked in previous films, they have always been tongue-in-cheek, such as in superhero films or comedies. When dealing with suicide, mental health, and Chbosky’s clear wish for realism, this cinematic choice clashes horribly wrong.
In the end, Dear Evan Hansen is a failed attempt at adapting the Broadway hit. The unimaginative staging of the songs, the terribly staged plot, and the poorly executed casting bog down this film so that you excruciatingly feel the over two-hour runtime.