The film adaptation of the award-winning musical by Pasek & Paul is finally in theaters. Here is our review of Dear Evan Hansen movie.
All We See: Dear Evan Hansen Review
Let’s get the fairly obvious out of the way.
Ben Platt is no longer a teenager. It seems to me that a lot of critics couldn’t get past this common cinematic sin. If that’s an actual standard, then half the movies we see should be scrutinized under the same rules – which we all know isn’t the case.
So what is it about this film that rubs critics the wrong way?
Dear Evan Hansen is a film based on the smash hit musical of the same name. The story tells of Evan Hansen, a teenager suffering from massive social anxiety. When a fellow social outcast, Connor Murphy, commits suicide, and all eyes turn to Evan due to a series of misunderstandings, he chooses to play along and weave a web of lies that in turn provide comfort to Connor’s grieving family and threatens to destroy his own.
Reprising his award-winning role, Ben Platt leads a cast that seemed to be ripped straight from the musical. With his soaring vocals, we are sucked into the discordant inner workings of Evan Hansen’s mind, and we are almost immediately transported into the world of the play. Joining him are Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe Murphy, Julianne Moore as Heidi Hansen, and Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy.
Let’s face facts: Evan Hansen is not a sympathetic character. His readiness to take advantage of a grieving family and community to fill a bottomless emotional hole is so despicable you physically feel it informing entire minutes of cringe in anticipation of the gigantic boot that will inevitably come crashing down. But as everyone who saw this on Broadway and beyond, this show is about how people deal with their own demons. In this, Platt does an admirable job at portraying Evan’s journey, albeit one that seems a little thin on consequences.
Performances were solid all around, but perhaps more than Platt, Amy Adams’ portrayal of the grieving mother, Cynthia Murphy is thrilling to watch. As her character comes to grips with the death of a child, she bears it with such quiet dignity with nary a trace of overwrought hysteria we’ve come to accept from similar storylines. Her casting was perfect in that she showed us something new from a character who could only be described as minor in the Broadway show. Adams drags that character, kicking and screaming, and firmly plants her center stage (so to speak), to serve as the emotional core of the film, eclipsing even Platt. In her, we see all our mothers: women who, for better or worse, never give up on their children. Her performance was pure, understated, gold.
The end of the film is a little underwhelming, which was weird since they could have made more of an effort as a feature film with a feature film budget. Instead, it feels flat and unsatisfactory. The original song “The Anonymous Ones” given to the character of Alana Beck (played by Amandla Stenberg) was interesting but felt forced to flesh out yet another horrible character. There is reason to fault the film, among those already mentioned, but like all art, it’s more than the sum of its broken parts – And it deserves to be evaluated on the basis of its artistic merit as a whole.
Despite the bad press, Dear Evan Hansen is still a compelling must-watch, both for fans of the musical, and those who are not. It is a timely reminder of the importance of maintaining real and nurturing relationships with the people you love. It is a comment on our increasing inability to communicate with the people who surround us, not just because of mental health issues, but also because of our own growing organic sense of isolation in a world that’s so connected.