‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Review — An Emotionally Resonant Musical
What if I told you there was a new movie coming out from Stephen Chbosky, the director of Wonder and The Perks of Being a Wallflower? I’d have your attention. What if I told you this movie features music from Pasek and Paul, the songwriters of La La Land and The Greatest Showman? You’re throwing money at your laptop now, aren’t you?
A slice of Broadway is landing in movie theaters in the form of Dear Evan Hansen, a coming-of-age musical teen drama based on the Tony-winning hit. This film sees Ben Platt reprising his role from the stage show as Evan Hansen, a teenager with a social anxiety disorder who writes a letter addressed to himself.
When a classmate named Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) steals the letter and commits suicide a few days later, Connor’s family mistakes the letter as Connor’s final words. Looking to Evan for help, Evan plays along with the idea that he and Connor were best friends.
2021 is looking like an excellent year for movie musicals. We’ve gotten the spellbinding In the Heights, and we still have films such as Encanto and Tick, Tick…Boom! coming later this year. I have a soft spot for musicals, which may explain my affinity for this film.
This movie deals with themes of mental health in ways that are uncommon for Hollywood. After all, upbeat musical numbers are not generally associated with mental health struggles. However, the film doesn’t shy away from displaying the brutality of depression and anxiety, and there are lines of dialogue that may resonate with audiences everywhere, myself included.
It’s a faithful adaptation of a beloved Broadway musical, so the film has a high bar to reach. I have never seen the stage production, but from what I know, the film follows the musical closely, keeping the story the same while only omitting four songs and adding a new one.
But what is the deciding factor that will get you to pay for the price of admission? The music. And it is genuinely incredible. Every single song in this movie is fantastic. “If I Could Tell Her” has been stuck in my head for over a week. “Waving Through a Window” is the film’s opener, and it is excellent.
However, the film’s highlight is “You Will Be Found,” a soaring musical number that serves as the film’s most emotional scene. It hits all the right notes, and you may need to ready your tissues for this one. This scene is powerful and beautiful, although loyal lovers of the stage show may not be enamored with it.
Let’s talk about Ben Platt. He is a mixed bag because he gives an exceptional performance as an awkward teenager. Platt’s experience in the role shows as he knows the character of Evan Hansen back and forth, and he does a beautiful job in his emotional scenes.
But that man is 27 years old, and he looks like it. Nine years after playing a college freshman in Pitch Perfect, he is playing a high school senior. This isn’t like Grease, where every high schooler is played by 30-somethings. At times, Platt can stick out like a broken thumb in this setting.
However, he is genuinely talented. His singing voice is sublime, and I cannot sing enough praise about the cast. Kaitlyn Dever is great as Zoe, and interestingly, this is the second 2021 film to feature both Amy Adams and Julianne Moore after The Woman in the Window. They round out the supporting cast with incredibly emotional performances.
While this movie seems like something for everyone, it may not resonate with people due to a few directorial choices. The transitions from a dialogue scene to a musical number can be jarring, as they can be having a normal conversation, and suddenly, we have Platt’s buttery baritone emerge.
I watched this film at an early screening with an audience of film students, and every time Evan began singing, it elicited laughter, which was a far cry from Chbosky’s intentions. Had he eased into the songs more, these scenes wouldn’t have come off as comical as they did.
And as I’ve talked to more and more of these students, I have yet to find one person who loved the film the way I did. Perhaps the film may fail to find its audience, leading people to think, “Damn, this would have been so much better on Broadway.”
Regardless, this is an emotionally resonant musical that tells a slightly predictable story about a teenager in over his head. The musical numbers are not overproduced, and the songs are beautiful, catchy, and transcendent. It’s terrific that the film will introduce this story to a broader audience.
Will they like it as much as the filmmakers intended? I honestly hope so.
Grade: ★★★★☆ [8/10, B]
Jonathan’s Tips: If you like good songs, watch this movie. Lower your expectations a little because it’s probably not as good as the Broadway show.
Dear Evan Hansen is only in theaters September 24.