Dear Evan Hansen: Film Review

Universal

Dear Evan Hansen, the movie adaptation of the Broadway musical, has been slated so much online that I went in with super low expectations – even though I enjoyed the stage show – and you know what, I didn’t hate it. It’s really not as bad as everyone is making out.

Ben Platt stars as Evan, a lonely high school student with social anxiety who is encouraged to write letters to himself by his therapist. One day, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) steals his letter and signs his name on Evan’s arm cast. Connor’s family discover the letter after their son commits suicide and assume Connor addressed his suicide note to Evan and they must have been friends. Evan makes a huge mistake as he gets caught up in the attention and goes along with and exaggerates the lie.

As you can tell from that summary, this film deals with serious subject matters like mental health and suicide and it doesn’t always handle them with care – for example, seeing Connor tap-dancing happily a couple of musical numbers after his suicide felt weird and everything is wrapped up a bit too nicely at the end. The film as a whole is quite a shallow examination of those topics and didn’t explore them in any deep, meaningful way. That being said, I thought it did a better job of portraying Evan’s mental health than the stage show and I felt like I understood the character better and why he did what he did – he was so desperately alone and felt so accepted, welcomed and loved by the Murphy family that he didn’t want to be honest and ruin it.

Massive fans of the stage show might feel sad to know that three songs and a few reprises have been chopped for the film, while two original tracks have been added. It’s a shame two of the scrapped songs featured Cynthia Murphy as that means we don’t get to see Amy Adams sing much at all. I had a better appreciation for the songs and the storytelling within them in this version, so bravo to songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. I loved You Will Be Found and Waving Through A Window when I saw the show and these continued to be my favourites in the film, with You Will Be Found (which wouldn’t sound out of place in Pasek & Paul’s The Greatest Showman soundtrack) being the highlight which brought me to tears. I could have done without So Big/So Small as the song drags, Julianne Moore (as Evan’s mum) didn’t sound particularly strong and the film was starting to feel super long by this point.

A lot has been said about Platt’s age and yes, the 28-year-old does look too old to play a teenager, and this isn’t helped by his school-based co-stars looking so young. I also think the wig didn’t have the desired effect of making him look younger and just made it even more obvious. However, as someone who wanted Platt – who originated the role of Evan on Broadway and won a Tony – to transfer to the West End with the show and was gutted when he didn’t, I’m happy I’ve now seen his portrayal of Evan. I didn’t find his casting too distracting, plus I thought his performance was very moving and his singing voice was beautiful. The cast sing live on set and the only downside to this was seeing Platt’s face contorting with effort as he belts out the high notes.

He is surrounded by a top-tier supporting cast too. Kaitlyn Dever gives a complex, touching and nuanced performance as the sister who has conflicting feelings about her drug-addicted brother’s death, Moore nails it as the struggling single mum who has to work constantly and makes Evan feel alone and neglected, and Adams is perfect as Cynthia, the warm stay-at-home mum who can give Evan the love and attention he craves. She is so desperate to cling to the notion that her son was good and had friends that she’s willing to believe anything. Amandla Stenberg was also good as the school over-achiever Alana, who has been given a slight makeover and a new original song about her battle with anxiety, a nice addition that shows that confident-seeming people can have mental health issues too.

Sure, Dear Evan Hansen is not perfect – in fact, it’s far from it – but it’s loyal to the show, addresses important issues and does not deserve as much hate as it is getting.

In cinemas from Friday 22nd October

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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