Connor Murphy and Evan Hansen are a pair of emotionally unstable teens. When Connor takes his own life Evan is mistakenly labeled Connor’s “best friend.” He leverages this for personal gain. The musical Dear Evan Hansen works overtime to garner support for the troubled protagonist. If you cannot empathize with him the story collapses. I could not.
In Evan’s defense he has a tragic past, undiagnosed mental illness and soaring vocals. Connor’s parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) prefer his lies to the truth about their son. Evan gradually realizes he’s using his pain to justify bad behavior. This resonated with me. But the harshest truth is that Ben Platt has aged out of his signature role. The film overcompensates by giving him a sickly appearance and a jittery demeanor. On stage he was a nice boy who could vanish in a crowd. On film he’s so frantic that the Murphy’s lack of suspicion grows comical.
Platt is supported by a skilled ensemble. Evan’s overworked mother (Julianne Moore), surly accomplice (Nik Dodani) and prickly love interest (Kaitlyn Dever) deliver solid work. Colton Ryan brings layers to the mysterious Connor. Amandla Stenberg shines in the expanded role of a student who becomes tangled in Evan’s lies.
Most of the up-tempo songs have been cut. The sole survivor is “Sincerely Me.” A fantasy in which Evan and Connor sing of their imaginary friendship. Its black comedy is a relief from the grim story and ballad heavy score. The scene also highlight’s the show’s queer subtext. Connor had an ex-boyfriend in the novelization. There’s no mention of that here. Instead Dodani’s role is made queer to soften his gay panic jokes.
The film ends differently than the stage show. Director Stephen Chbosky said “it was important to redeem Evan.” I’m not convinced that he succeeded. We’ll never get a pro-shoot of Platt’s 2016 Broadway performance. And we’ll never get a Dear Evan Hansen film with an age-appropriate lead. Instead we get this messy hybrid. I can’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already love the source material.
Odds and Ends
- Dear Evan Hansen is re-opening on Broadway and the West End. The American tour kicks off in December 2021. If you can see it on stage, do so.
- The show has been compared to the cynical Heathers and World’s Greatest Dad. I think it’s closer to the earnest 13 Reasons Why.
- The song “You Will Be Found” launches an online campaign similar to the “It Gets Better” project. The singer is lying but the listeners are comforted. I’d compare this duality to Evita’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” or the title song in Cabaret.
- The stage stars of In the Heights and Everyone’s Talking About Jamie had cameos in their films. Perhaps Ben Platt could have played Evan’s teacher? Or therapist?
- The camera work is clumsy. The characters are constantly placed in static portrait shots.
- The new ballads are lovely but hurt the film’s pacing.
- I missed the song “Good for You” where Evan gets told off.
And finally, this story can be triggering. If you, or someone you know, is struggling please contact The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).