Movie Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

Review by James Lindorf

The film adaptation of the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen” is a bit like its main character, reserved, sweet, and kinda messy. Ben Platt returns to the role he originated in a theater in DC before moving off-broadway and finally to Broadway proper. At 27, Platt may be a bit old to be playing a teenager, but he is far from the oldest person to do so. Stockard Channing famously played Rizzo in “Grease” at 33, which was slightly older than Olivia Newton John’s 29. Platt is surrounded by an all-star and age-appropriate cast, possibly to make him look more natural in the role. The cast includes heavy-hitters like Amy Adams and Julianne Moore, a couple of major up-and-coming stars in Kaitlyn Dever and Amandla Stenberg, and a couple of newer faces in Nik Dodani and Colton Ryan. Universal will bring “Dear Evan Hansen” to theaters everywhere on September 24th.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is about both teen mental illness and the challenges of being a parent. Evan is a high school senior suffering from severe anxiety and depression. When a part of his therapy homework, a self-addressed letter, is mistaken for the suicide note left behind by Connor (Ryan), Evan’s world spins out of control in the best and worst ways. Initially, his fib serves as a way to soothe the broken heart of a devastated mother. Still, when people begin to notice him and treat him differently, it becomes a lie Evan doesn’t want to stop telling. Unfortunately, all things good or bad have to end, and everyone is forced to confront Evan and their own emotions.

Director Stephen Chbosky may not be a household name, but he may have been the perfect choice for “Dear Evan Hansen.” He broke onto the scene in 2005 as the screenwriter for Rent, another hit musical adaptation. Chbosky would go on to write a billion-dollar movie when he penned the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017. His experience extends beyond musicals and includes the critical darling “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” where Logan Lerman essentially plays a less depressed version of Evan. Chbosky gets excellent performances from everyone in the cast. He partnered well with cinematographer Brandon Trost (The Disaster Artist) but had a less successful outcome with editor Anne McCabe (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). The film is overly long with a two-hour and seventeen-minute runtime. Even with the long-running time, we lose a lot of Heidi Hansen (Moore), whose character is more involved in the stage production. The workaholic mother disappears for most of the middle portion of the movie only to reappear for a fight and an unsuccessful song. More time should have been given to all of the parents to highlight their differences and their shortcomings.

Evan is our main character, and as such, he is in nearly every scene, leaving the other characters to fight for precious little time. The fantastic Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) is the object of Evan’s affection and Connor’s younger sister. Because of her proximity to the central characters, Zoe gets two moments to shine before being glossed over. In contrast, everyone else gets a singular moment. Zoe (Dever) could be the star of her own show. She was often the forgotten child at home as everyone struggled with Connor’s latest and often violent outbursts. Zoe loves her brother, but she isn’t going to miss him. That revelation and the associated guilt are tearing her apart. With her mom refusing to discuss Connor as he truly was, Zoe often felt alone until Evan came forward with stories of the brother she used to love. Unfortunately, what could be 90 minutes of her battling grief is compressed into a single song.

“Dear Evan Hansen” should have strayed further from the stage play, ditching most Connor-centric activities after Evan’s impassioned speech at the school memorial service. Less of Evan constantly having to prove or expand on their fake friendship would have given time to these other characters, and we all would have been better off. It’s hard to get too upset with a movie filled with incredibly talented people sharing an important message. The sense of isolation that comes with depression is perhaps its most devastating side effect. Remembering you are not alone and that you can ask for help when you need it could save many lives. Less time is paid to it, but there is also the theme of parenting and how no matter how hard you try or how well-intentioned you may be, sometimes you will screw up. You’ll miss something or say the wrong thing, but that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Being there for the kids in whatever way you can is the best place to be, and that as long as you nail the big things, the small things don’t seem to matter.

“Dear Evan Hansen” could use a trim or at least a reallocation of its time. Personally, I also wouldn’t mind a little more energy in the musical numbers. However, “Sincerely Me” is easily the most fun you will have while watching this movie, and you can’t help but be moved during “You Will Be Found.” So while he may not be perfect, I would be happy to be friends with Evan Hansen and his 3.5 out of 5 score.

Rating: PG-13
Genre: Musical, Drama
Original Language: English
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Producer: Marc Platt, Adam Siegel
Writer: Steven Levenson
Release Date: September 24th
Runtime: 2h 17m
Distributor: Universal Pictures

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