Musical about a lonely teen caught in a lie ends on a sour note.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is a missed opportunity of a Broadway musical-turned-film about a lonely boy who is mistaken as the best friend of another lonely boy. In fact, it seems too cynical and cowardly to even be high-spirited.
Now, I’ve shared my passion for movies about lonely people wanting to be accepted into society (“Edward Scissorhands,” “The Hunchback of Norte Dame,” Life, Animated,” “Love, Simon,” etc.), but this one turns out to be a negative experience that constantly wants us to feel for the main loner and what he gets himself, in what starts off as a misunderstanding and ends up as a lie.
Early criticisms include 27-year-old actor Ben Platt (“Pitch Perfect”) being a tad too old to be reprise his Broadway role as the teenage boy Evan Hansen. In certain aspects, actors in their 20s can play teenagers, because they look similar, but in other aspects, Platt would have been better off playing a teacher or older cousin. I think the movie’s choice of actors are too old to portray these teens, and we would have loved the character better if he was portrayed by a teen actor.
Hansen has Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), has a crush on the sweet Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever), and doesn’t have any friends. Not even Jared (Nik Dodani), a family friend of his, doesn’t consider them friends. As advised by his therapist, he has to write letters to himself about his life in school.
Zoe’s brother Connor (Colton Ryan) acts crazy in school, and takes Evan’s letter thinking it aimed at him. The next day, however, the boy’s mother (Amy Adams) and stepfather (Danny Pino) inform Evan that their son took his own life, and think that he wrote the letter to Connor. Then, there’s the environmentalist Alana Beck (Amandla Stenberg), who decides to set up an orchard project, known as “The Connor Project” in his honor. And then he makes a speech in song form at Connor’s memorial that goes viral, because of Evan’s inspiring message about how nobody is alone.
And on the side, he finally connects with Zoe, who is tired of being in Connor’s shadow. And his nurse mother (Julianne Moore) expects her son to take his meds and to see his therapist.
Throughout this movie, he doesn’t have the courage to tell everyone the truth that he never knew Connor, other than him yelling at his face, writing his name in his arm cast and taking his letter. And I’m not convinced the deceased boy was passionate, because of how he ignored his sister, and never talked to anyone about his issues. Then again, not everyone has the courage to tell people how they really feel.
The lyrics for “Dear Evan Hansen” were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who both wrote the memorable songs in “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.” The best song in the movie is “You Will Be Found,” performed by Platt, because of how sentimental and valuable it is. Maybe that will play on a DJ and transcend through other forms of media like “The Greatest Showman” did. But the rest of the songs are somewhat flat and lackluster.
The performances are all cut and paste. I’ve already delivered how Platt would have been a good choice if he was much younger. Dever is the one who is a bit more convincing as a teen, after all, she was in “Booksmart” two years ago. But the flattest performance comes from Adams, who feels all wooden and desperate. I love this actress, but coming on the heels of her last two movies “Hillbilly Elegy” and “The Woman in the Window,” she needs a new agent.
The movie was directed by Stephen Chbosky, who’s made much more effective dramas like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Wonder.” I was really looking forward to it, because of how well he guides misunderstood young men on the right path, but this time, he misses the target.
In Theaters This Friday