The day you see “Dear Evan Hansen” is going to be a good day, and here’s why.
This coming-of-age movie-musical, released Sept. 24, tells the emotional story of a socially-anxious teenager’s life following the suicide of a classmate.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky of “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Dear Evan Hansen” is a screen adaptation of the six Tony award-winning Broadway musical. It stars the original actor for Evan Hansen, Ben Platt.
Evan Hansen is a high schooler struggling with anxiety and a broken arm, tasked by his therapist with writing letters to himself — starting each one with “Dear Evan Hansen.”
Though Platt has evidently aged since the musical’s 2016 premiere, his vocal performance did not disappoint fans of the original play. While the “Dear Evan Hansen” play and original soundtrack is moving and entertaining, the movie was able to deepen the audience’s connection to the characters of the story due to the larger cast and variety of scenes. The movie enabled viewers to step farther into the characters’ worlds to better understand what they were going through.
Unlike the 2020 “Hamilton” film, the movie is more than a play on film. It features two original songs and expands upon the play’s solemn ending by adding an element of healing to each of the character’s stories.
Platt opens the movie with “Waving through a Window,” feeling like an outsider on the first day of his senior year. The film adaptation’s larger cast amplified the reception of the character’s loneliness as Evan is immersed in a busy high school setting as he sings. The movie accurately depicted an overwhelmed teenager through the chaos of the school halls.
Evan’s troubled classmate, Connor Murphy, played by Colton Ryan, swipes Evan’s first letter to himself from the library printer. Ryan’s performance immediately depicted Murphy as a character the audience wants to better understand.
Connor’s parents, played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino, read the letter and assume Evan and Connor were best friends, and Evan is too anxious to tell them the truth. In their grief, they cling to Evan as their son. Their emotional performance when they speak to Evan puts the audience in Evan’s place, helping viewers understand the motivation behind Evan’s complex deception. Evan finds acceptance in the family he always wanted, and he weaves a deep web of lies to prove his friendship with Connor.
In “Sincerely Me,” one of the funniest musical numbers in the movie, Evan and a tech-savvy friend, played by Nik Dodani, concoct a series of letters between Evan and Connor. Sung by Ryan and Platt, the song serves as comic relief in a heavy story.
Though founded on lies, Evan’s relationship with the Murphy’s brings healing to their family as well as to him.
“You’ve given me my brother back,” Evan’s love-interest, Zoe Murphy, played by Kaitlyn Dever, says.
Evan works with high school activist Alana, played by Amandla Stenberg, to hold an emotional memorial for Connor, at which he sings a powerful “You Will Be Found.”
“Even when the dark comes crashing through / When you need a friend to carry you / And when you’re broken on the ground / You will be found,” he sings
Of course, Evan must reap the consequences when his lies crumble and the truth is revealed.
The emotions of the actors, particularly Amy Adams, were moving throughout the film. Adams’ emotional performance and vivid facial expressions left very few dry eyes in the theater.
However, Platt’s age detracts from the story’s believability. Besides Platt, the whole cast appears to be highschool aged, but Platt’s hair and make-up turn him into more of a giant Frodo than a realistic highschooler. As a result, the movie only received a 29% Rotten Tomatoes rating. While the music did not disappoint and the acting was largely flawless, a high school aged cast would have increased the movie’s plausibility.
Yet, director Chbosky said he never considered a lead besides Platt.
“It was always Ben,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “Having heard the soundtrack and knowing what it was, understanding his connection to it from the very first workshop, it was him or nothing.”
Overall, the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” and show-stopping music make the movie a must-see for fans of the original soundtrack.