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.

The Woman in the Window: Netflix Film Review

The Woman in the Window

As much as I love Amy Adams, I didn’t have the highest hopes for The Woman in the Window because I was massively underwhelmed by A.J. Finn‘s novel and doubted that the film adaptation could make significant improvements upon the source material. However, I didn’t expect it to be quite so bad.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Adams stars as Anna Fox, an agoraphobic child psychologist who is mentally unstable, an alcoholic and misusing her pills. She lives alone in a huge New York City townhouse and spends her days talking to her estranged husband Ed (Anthony Mackie) and daughter Olivia on the phone, drinking heavily, watching old movies, and spying on her neighbours, especially the Russells, who have just moved in across the street. One night, she witnesses Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) getting stabbed in her home and calls the police. However, when Detective Little (Brian Tyree Henry) comes to investigate, Jane Russell (now Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her husband Alistair (Gary Oldman) present themselves and insist she is mistaken. What is going on?!

The story is basically Rear Window – with the unreliable narrator angle giving off The Girl on the Train vibes – and it’s obvious director Joe Wright was trying to make an Alfred Hitchcock-style classic thriller thanks to some of the weird stylistic flourishes he rips right out of the Hitchcock playbook, but it was never going reach those heights because it remains rather loyal to the source material’s disappointing story.

With the novel, I really enjoyed the mystery of the two Jane Russells, finding out Anna’s backstory and whether what she saw was real, and it was told from Anna’s first-person point of view so you could truly get into her unreliable mindset. I find films struggle to bring that unreliable narrator essence to life because we’re watching from an outsider’s perspective (The Girl on the Train had this issue too). As a result, we judge her more and are more likely to be on the side of the people who don’t believe her, blaming it on the mix of alcohol and pills giving her hallucinations.

Also, in the book, the third act was such a letdown, it ruined what had come before it. Finn failed to stick the landing and make a believable twist and that’s the same here, even though there are some differences. I generally try to avoid spoilers in my reviews but because most of my issue with the film is to do with the twist, I’ve decided to go for spoilers here.

Not enough time was given to Anna’s friendship with the Russells’ son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) throughout the movie to make the revelation that he’s a psycho shocking. There also isn’t enough explanation from Ethan as to why he’s killed multiple people – for example, what did his father’s colleague Pamela do to warrant being murdered?! His motivations made no sense and everything happens too quickly for the information to sink in before it’s all over. Putting Anna’s lodger David (Wyatt Russell) in this final showdown was a good idea as it added more thrill and drama and there’s a new horrifying gory moment that seemed out of place with the rest of the movie but it certainly made me gasp! Also, the “nine months later” epilogue – which is completely different to the book – annoyed me because I refuse to believe that an agoraphobic with as many issues as Anna (whose backstory isn’t explored anywhere near enough here) can become completely fine in that time and be able to go outside and move house with ease.

I have seen some criticism of Adams’ performance but I didn’t have an issue with it, I thought she was fine. My biggest issue was Hechinger as I believe Ethan’s twist could have been handled so much better in a different pair of hands, even if the script was still rather poor, and Oldman, whose performance was so over-the-top and lacked any sense of nuance and subtlety. I appreciate that Alistair is a stressed man pissed off with his snooping interfering neighbour but his acting didn’t need to be so big and loud.

I liked Russell as David and I’m glad the character got a meatier storyline for the movie and Henry as the sensitive and compassionate cop. It’s hard to comment on Moore, Leigh and Mackie because they have such small roles. I know this was a highly-anticipated film adaptation of a best-selling book when they shot in back in 2018 but I’m surprised they signed up for such minor parts – their talents are wasted! Considering the film has been through extensive reshoots and edits, I can’t help but wonder how much footage of them has been left on the cutting room floor.

The Woman in the Window is not the disaster some headlines are declaring it to be. Yes, it is messy, the acting is bad in places, and the third act is an absolute fail, but I still enjoyed watching it.

Streaming on Netflix now

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hillbilly Elegy: Netflix Film Review

Hillbilly Elegy

I love Glenn Close and Amy Adams as individuals so I was excited to see them sharing the screen together in Ron Howard‘s domestic drama Hillbilly Elegy but damn, this film is a tough watch.

In this film adaptation of J.D. Vance‘s bestselling memoir of the same name, adult J.D. (Gabriel Basso), a Yale Law student, is on the brink of a promising summer associate job in 2011 when he receives a call from his sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett) who informs him that their mum Bev (Adams) is in hospital following a heroin overdose. As he heads home to deal with the latest family dilemma, the film flashes back to 1997, when a young and pudgy J.D. (Owen Asztalos) lives at home in Middletown, Ohio, with Bev, a former nurse and drug addict who has uncontrollable mood swings, can act violently, and can barely look after herself, let alone her children. It tells the story of how he managed to turn his life around with the help of his grandmother Mamaw (Close).

I have quite a few issues with the movie – and not just its awful title. It is just so stressful to watch these characters, particularly in the flashbacks. They are repetitive as they serve to illustrate the same point – how difficult Bev was to have as a mother – and sure, they are illuminating in a sense, but there are so many and they basically consist of constant yelling. I just wanted to tell them to shut the hell up. It was unpleasant and tiresome and a lot to sit through.

All I felt for Bev was hatred and that’s the screenplay’s fault. She is written in a stereotypical, one-dimensional way so we never get to know her fully or understand why she is the way she is. Sure, this is J.D.’s story and not his mother’s and there are some flashbacks to her childhood that shed some light on her behaviour, but it’s not enough. I wanted more substance and depth – to get under her skin – when we just get this monster. I wish there had been a couple more scenes of her in better times to give us a greater sense of who she once was and to balance out all the drama and screaming. Mamaw gets a slightly better deal as she has compassion for her grandchildren and wants to help, but she is no angel – she is mean, wicked, and has a history of domestic violence too.

When the trailer first came out for this, people joked that it was obvious Oscar bait and I thought that was a pretty cynical view, but now I have seen it, I can confirm this is quite accurate. These actresses, who have both been nominated for Oscars many times and never won, are doing the most to get another run at the gold with their performances here and I would even say they’re trying too hard. They both go for it and throw themselves into their characters, who are so showy and melodramatic that their performances come across as OTT. Their big acting will definitely get them noticed by the Academy but I reckon Close, covered in all those prosthetics, has more of an edge as Mamaw has more dimension, some great facial expressions (she’d cut you down with a stare!) and presented more of a physical challenge. It’s mind-boggling seeing Close go from The Wife to Hillbilly Elegy, but she just about convinces. I wasn’t fully sold on Adams as Bev though.

A story which depicts a personal triumph against the odds or in the face of adversity normally usually makes me emotional and leaves me feeling inspired but the only thing I felt with this film was pity for J.D. and Lindsay. I think that’s because there’s not enough meat on its bones, it isn’t grounded in much political or socio-economic context, and implies that if you simply apply yourself at school, you will rise up out of poverty, get into a university and then an Ivy League law school and that’s hardly ever the case. Very disappointing.

Streaming on Netflix from Tuesday 24th November

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Babyteeth: Film Review

Babyteeth

I caught Shannon Murphy‘s directorial debut Babyteeth at the London Film Festival last year (it showed in Venice after I left booo!) and it is finally getting a U.K. release!

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Rachel Weisz, Timothee Chalamet & Letitia Wright at the 2019 BAFTAs: My pics

Tonight soooo many film stars hit the red carpet at the Royal Albert Hall in London for the annual BAFTAs. I was lucky to be on the red carpet and inside the winners’ press conference, and here are my pics.

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My reaction to the 2019 Oscar nominations: Timothee Chalamet, Sam Elliott, Vice, Buster Scruggs & more!

Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Here are my hot takes on today’s Oscar nominations.

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Vice: Film Review

Vice received the most nominations for this year’s Golden Globes so I just assumed it would be a movie I would like and I was excited to check it out – so naturally, I was surprised that I didn’t like the movie much at all.

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Critics’ Choice Awards 2019: My favourite looks

The awards season is well and truly in full swing now. Last night it was the Critics’ Choice Awards and so naturally today’s post is about the red carpet fashion!

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BAFTA 2017: Best & Worst Dressed

yes-2-crop

As you should already know, last night it was the BAFTAs. You may have already seen my pieces about the winners and my pics from the winners’ press conference, but, like every awards show, a red carpet analysis must be done. So here we are.

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Oscar nominations 2017: Hits, Misses & Shockers

la-la

For those of you who have been living in a hole, the Oscars nominations were announced today and while it was generally surprise-free – this was the first year in the past few where you could easily predict the frontrunner – there were still a few interesting twists, snubs and additions.

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