The lyrics, beats, dance routines, and messages put together in musicals have created some of the most memorable movies in cinematic history. However, musicals don’t work if more than one of these components fail to hit a high note. And in the case of Dear Evan Hansen, almost everything, aside from some of the music, just flat out doesn’t work or even make a case for having made this Broadway-hit into a movie. When you mix together the cast led by a poorly miscast titular character, complex messaging and offbeat pacing, it makes for just an oddly-made movie that’s more head-scratching than inspiring.
Dear Evan Hansen tells the story of the titular character played by Ben Platt entering the last year of high school. Lonely and dealing with social anxiety, Evan writes letters to himself at the recommendation of his therapist. One day at school, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a classmate of Evan’s, gets hold of one of his letters. Failing to retrieve the letter, Evan waits anxiously to be exposed to his crush, Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever), whom he mentioned in the letter, and who is also Connor’s sister. However, a few days later it is revealed that Connor committed suicide and his parents only found the letter Evan wrote. Connor’s parents mistakenly believe he wrote the letter to Evan as his last communication to anyone. Evan rolls with the lie, and as lies tend to do, it snowballs into something bigger as the movie goes on.
This movie deals with a number of heavy topics many high schoolers go through these days, including anxiety, depression, mental health issues, loneliness, and suicide. Juggling these topics might work on Broadway, but for a movie that’s almost 140 minutes long, none of the topics it explores get completely fleshed out. In fact, some of viewers may get the feeling that these topics are disguises that cover up the fact that the main character exploits a suicide just to get closer to the sister of the one who left the world too soon. Either way, it makes for an odd movie that already has a number of issues.
The main topic on social media surrounding this movie has been that it has Ben Platt, who is 27 years old, playing Evan, a senior in high school. Yes, it looks odd, and it will seep into the back of your mind throughout the movie’s runtime. However, Platt’s age is not the main problem here (even though it is a problem some extent). What made him a sensation in his performance on Broadway does not translate to the movie adaptation. And the results are a performance that is so poor and without direction as it gets more cringey as the movie rolls on. There is no doubt that Platt is a terrific singer. But when he stops singing (or when anyone does for that matter, really), scenes containing dialogue feel hollow and without weight. Almost everyone else in Dear Evan Hansen feels miscast, especially Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever.
Some might find this adaptation inspiring, and I hope that happens for anyone going through any of the issues the movie covers. And some of the musical numbers are actually good and showcase the vocals of some very talented actors. However, the mission of this story feels misleading on the big screen and adds validity to the argument that this story and its messages should have been reserved for the stage only. Director Stephen Chboksy tackled the same issues shown in Dear Evan Hansen, minus the musical numbers, so well in 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. If you’re looking for inspiration from any of the heavy topics in Dear Evan Hansen, if you haven’t already seen it, I recommend seeing Wallflower instead.