(Written by Alllison Brown)
The film adaptation of extremely successful Broadway musical, Dear Evan Hansen, was highly anticipated on my list. I saw the musical in February of 2019, after winning the ticket lottery, and had the luxury of watching from the very first row with a friend. Despite my caveats with its unethical storyline and appalling characters, the play was a poignant experience with many comical moments hidden below the surface. After its TIFF premiere, the film was panned by critics, and I was worried. Many of the issues I had with the play were somewhat resolved in the motion picture; I was surprised by how much I appreciated it.
Evan Hansen himself is still an extraordinarily flawed character and is equally as unlikeable as in the musical. Evan is sweaty, awkward, uncomfortable and weird; none of this is redeemable through his selfish and ego-centric choices in the narrative. There are no major repercussions for his bad behavior in manipulating a grieving family and essentially committing fraud. I am glad that this adaptation did provide a new element to the narrative following Hansen’s reveal. Unless I am forgetting something from the stage show, Evan does not try to reach out to people that may have genuinely known Connor (Colton Ryan) (in this case through browsing tagged social media photos) to learn about his true nature. This addition worked to show growth in the character that was starkly missing in the original script.
I was glad to finally see Ben perform as the titular character (after an odd lead when I saw the play), yet he has clearly aged out of the role. The juxtaposition of a 27-year-old Platt against the ensemble classmates is jarring and unintentionally similar to the satirical age casting of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp or PEN15. That said, I can tell why director Stephen Chbosky chose to keep Platt; his emotional vocal performance is undeniable. I only wish something along the lines of 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button could have been done through CGI to make Platt a more realistic high school student.
The film’s soundtrack is just as catchy in the theatre as on stage. I took my best friend to the screening, and she was dancing in her seat next to me. Perhaps the most successful transition from stage to screen was with musical number, “Sincerely Me.” The scene is hilarious as the fraudulent emails get edited and compiled by Jared (Nik Dodani) and Evan, and Connor performs their corrections. The best image is a scene where Connor and Evan are smushed together in a two-person go-kart; it is so cheesy in the way they appear to be a couple, but nevertheless a hysterical picture to behold.
I remember Alana Beck (Amandla Stenberg) to be my personally most hated character of the stage production. All I recall from the play is that she took advantage of Connor’s death to gain popularity despite having zero interaction with him. Amandla plays a much more tender Alana who seems to genuinely care about Connor’s cause, as well as Evan’s wellbeing. Her reason for sharing private information does not seem selfish this time; it seems to only be done to reach the last $25,000 of a goal on GoFundMe to benefit Connor’s cause. The fact that she immediately regrets it and truly cares about who the deed hurts makes Alana a much more likeable character on film than on stage. This is surely a result of Stenberg’s charm and nuanced talent.
It was funny to see look alike duo, Amy Adams and Julianne Moore, once again cast in the same film, as in this year’s earlier The Woman in the Window. I wonder if this is an intentional choice to show Cynthia as a new and improved version of Heidi Hansen, when Evan turns to the Murphys as almost a surrogate family. Julianne, however, blends into the background; Heidi seems to have a smaller role in the film than the play. Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever deliver fantastic performances, but it is a shame their craft is outshined by some of the more unsettling elements of the narrative.
Despite my grievances, the quiet moments are compelling, and the heavy subject matter works. For the material it has at hand, Dear Evan Hansen is well made, and I can see most of the wide audience enjoying it.
Dear Evan Hansen screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, and hits theaters everywhere on Friday, September 24th.