By Ben Lindner, Staff Writer
[Universal Pictures; 2021]
This year is full of Broadway musical adaptations; there was In The Heights this summer, and West Side Story will premiere at the end of the year. Now, a film adaptation of the 2017 Best Musical Tony winner Dear Evan Hansen has hit the big screen. With film adaptations are on the rise, Dear Evan Hansen is an example of this trend going too far, as the film feels soulless, hollow and ultimately unnecessary.
Dear Evan Hansen follows Evan (Ben Platt), an anxious high schooler who ends up caught in lie that makes everyone think he was best friends with Connor, a classmate who committed suicide, despite the fact that Evan didn’t know him at all. The lie grows and grows as Evan gets closer with Connor’s family and becomes more popular and respected at school. Evan has to try and determine if this lie is worth his newfound history.
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Ben Platt’s performance as the titular Evan Hansen is a point of contention for those familiar with the musical. Though Platt originated the role on Broadway and reprises it in the film, he is now 27 and criticized as too old to play the character. It seemed like a small issue before the movie was released, but upon viewing the film, it’s easy to see that the doubts around Platt’s role were not in vain. Evan is supposed to be a young kid so anxious and eager to please that he makes horrible choices, but Platt is unable to convincingly play someone so immature. He makes the character seem more like a young adult who should know better as he is unable to tap into the naivete that is essential for the character.
Outside of his age, Platt still struggles in the role. He is really playing to the back of the house, which may work on stage but feels overdramatic – even for this extremely overdramatic story. Evan does some bad things and is flat out unlikable at times, making it take a perfect balance to make him a good protagonist. Platt makes Evan mostly unlikable as he fails to have any chemistry with any of the other actors. All of this culminates to make the potentially heartfelt emotional moments in the story feel cheap due to the ineffectiveness of the film’s lead character.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Platt that brings this movie down. Stephen Chbosky‘s direction is visually uninteresting, nearly every scene is just two characters singing at one another in a room as the camera circles them. Chbosky does not take advantage of the adaptations format as a piece of cinema, whereas adaptations like In the Heights transform musical numbers into huge group moments that fill the silver screen. There are no such choices made for this movie, making everything look bland and uninteresting.
The music itself is also hugely disappointing. Instead of having a series of unique songs, it feels much more like a slog from song to song. Furthermore, the songs often do not feel justified at all. There are many scenes where a normal film reaction would seem to suit the story better, but instead the characters break out into another bland, same-sounding song. The characters do not convey emotions that feel strong enough to warrant a song, which often leads to the numbers feeling forced and generally unwelcome. Needless to say, this is not what you want to see from a musical.
Even if all of these things were actually good, Dear Evan Hansen is fundamentally doomed to fail. The premise of “a kid who takes advantage of a suicide and ultimately learns a valuable lesson” feels uncomfortable from the start. It would take a perfectly calibrated execution to make this even remotely work. Of course, the film ends up being about as far as you can get from “perfectly calibrated”, resulting in a disappointing and uncomfortable viewing experience. Dear Evan Hansen feels like a waste of time for both the filmmakers and the viewers.
Watch the trailer here: