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Dear Evan Hansen Review

September 25, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Dear Evan Hansen - Universal
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Dear Evan Hansen Review  

Directed By: Stephen Chbosky
Written By: Steven Levenson; Based on the music and stage play with music and lyrics by Levenson, Justin Paul and Benji Pasek
Runtime: 137 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive reference

Ben Platt – Evan Hansen
Julianne Moore – Heidi Hansen
Kaitlyn Dever – Zoe Murphy
Amy Adams – Cynthia Murphy
Daniel Pino – Larry Mora
Amandla Stenberg – Alana Beck
Colton Ryan – Connor Murphy
Nik Dodani – Jared Kalwani

Dear Evan Hansen is a new cinematic adaptation of the stage musical of the same name that explores themes of depression, suicidal thoughts and emotional anxiety. While the film definitely attempts to seriously deal with such heavy subject matter, Stephen Chbosky is unable to elevate the material for its cinematic translation. The experience of watching the big-screen version for Dear Evan Hansen comes off as if Chbosky could not figure out how to marry such serious subject matter with the lavish showmanship and theatricality that’s expected of a musical.

The story follows young Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), who at the start of the film is already on a regular regimen of anti-anxiety meds and undergoing therapy. His mother Heidi (Julianne Moore) is caring and attentive, but her work as the home’s sole breadwinner has diverted attention away from her son. Evan’s struggling, but he re-enters the school year with the glimmer of hope that things will turn around. An unfortunate misunderstanding with Connor Murphy, another troubled youth, sees Connor confiscating a personal letter from Evan. On the suggestion of his therapist, Evan needs to write letters to himself.

A short-time later, Connor tragically takes his own life. His grief-stricken parents, Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Daniel Pino), find Evan’s letter, believing it was the last note their son had written to his only friend. The shy and timid Evan is unable to tell the truth to Connor’s parents, and instead reinforces their belief in a false friendship with Connor. For a time, the adulation and affection offered by Connor’s family gives Evan a respite from his crushing loneliness. However, it’s only a matter of time before the ruse predictably spirals out of control.

Ben Platt, who originated the stage version role of Evan Hansen, is given the opportunity to reprise the role on screen. Much criticism has been made of the fact that Hansen looks too old at 27 to play a 17-year-old high schooler. These complaints seem rather unfair, considering actors in their 20s and 30s have been playing high schoolers in film and TV for decades. Tom Welling was already in his mid-20s when he was cast as Clark Kent on Smallville. Does Ben Platt look older than his 17-year-old character? Maybe, but more importantly, he’s still experienced enough to bring a believable and genuine performance as the character.

Unfortunately, the direction and presentation around the rest of the film is sorely lacking. The film is thematically intense, but Chbosky makes the mistake of imbuing a musical with way too much understated subtlety. The musical numbers, the choreography and blocking never really take off. Ben Platt is clearly a good singer, but there is never really a moment where any of the actors are really given a chance to truly sing their hearts out and find some catharsis.

When musical numbers in the film start, they usually stay in first gear and never move out of it. Characters sing while they are sitting down, or they never move around their space. As a result, the film attempts to maintain a level of emotional intimacy, but when the characters are singing, the emotional catharsis or release is absent. This results in musical sequences that are very bland and paint-by-numbers. They never truly soar or inspire.

The film is filled with powerhouse talent such as Amy Adams and Julianne Moore. Their performances are all very strong and believable. But when Julianne Moore is finally given the chance to sing, it’s almost like she is talking her way through a monologue that occasionally rhymes rather than singing lyrics. This illustrates the other drawback of big screen Hollywood musicals. Sometimes the singing abilities don’t match the more traditional acting talents.

Obviously, what Evan Hansen does in continuing to maintain the lie with the Murphy family is wrong. However, to the film’s credit, it does at least offer an empathetic setup for Evan, making it understandable why he would go along with the lie.

One of the film’s more interesting characters is Amandla Stenberg’s Alana Beck, an outgoing type-A classmate, who exemplifies the crippling effects of depression. Some people, such as Alana, are very good at hiding it and maintaining appearances or staying “anonymous,” as her song states. That said, one lost opportunity in Dear Evan Hansen occurs when there is acknowledgement and recognition between those who share deep depression; yet the exchange between Alana and Evan only seems to scratch the surface. While Alana is clearly able to recognize the signs of Evan’s depression, she does little to offer him a helping hand. Similarly, Evan is unable to assist Alana.

Since Dear Evan Hansen is bereft of any musical panache or a big musical moment, there’s never that one moment where the emotions really pierce home. Instead, Dear Evan Hansen is stuck in a bland, understated mode and does not find that balance between an engaging musical production and a serious story about youths battling depression. Overall, Dear Evan Hansen was a mediocre cinematic experience.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Dear Evan Hansen has its moments with some quality actors clearly putting in the effort. However, Chbosky appears ill-prepared in handling the musical format in bringing this stage production to the screen. The film lacks the necessary energy, style and emotional resonance to really push across its themes and ideas. The musical numbers are boring, and that’s not the way the audience should feel during a musical -- even one with such intense, serious thematic material.