By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
As I began this film, there is much about the Evan Hansen character with which I could definitely relate. Growing up, I was definitely a painfully shy individual and have continued to struggle with social anxiety. By the end of the movie, though, I feel that the film, and the development of its lead character, have done a serious injustice, by not realistically dealing with the causes of the protagonist’s problems and disappointingly goes for a somewhat feel better ending. To be honest, I have never previously watched any stage production of the play that inspired this movie, but if the filmmakers have remained faithful to the source material, they are simply enabling the same flaws that make the play troublesome.
Ben Platt stars as the titular Evan Hansen, a high school senior troubled with depression and social anxiety, but an individual who hopes to improve his situation during his last year of high school. Following a recommendation by his therapist, Evan proceeds to write himself inspirational letters to encourage more social behavior and connection with others. Things get rather complicated and messy when a troubled classmate named Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), gets ahold of one of his letters that hints that Evan has a deep crush on Connor’s younger sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever). Following this awkward situation, Evan learns that Connor has committed suicide and his family believes that the letter in his possession is a suicide note directed to his only friend.
Unable to muster up the courage to tell his devastated family the truth, Evan decides to play along and creates a very false fantasy in which he and Connor were close friends. In this idealized scenario, Connor was struggling to remain level headed, despite the problems that troubled him. This brings Evan much closer to the Murphy family and gives him the opportunity to connect with Zoe that he has desired for so long. Of course, this tremendously lie snowballs and creates further complications for Evan, as he struggles to reconcile the fact and fantasy.
Based on the stage musical of the same name by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul, the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen, as directed by Stephen Chbosky, is truly a strange experience that should leave its audience very uncomfortable and disturbed. Now, even though the Evan Hansen character can be very likable and sometimes relatable, the movie fails to get to the real source of his problems. The story attempts to offer a realistic portrayal of a young man struggling with mental health problems, but despite the character’s wrong doings, it glosses over what would have been the consequences in the real world.
As a musical adaptation, Chbosky and his team have done mostly great work in creating a world where singing expresses the emotions of its characters. It never comes across as a stage production captured on film, and feels very organic and true. But the writing’s failures to deliver a realistic resolution is how this movie falls apart.
As far as the casting goes, everyone one in the film performs well, giving their characters much heart and passion. Though Ben Platt seems to have an excellent grasp of the character, considering that he is the one who brought Evan to life on the stage, he has matured to a point where he can no longer portray Evan credibly. He simply looks out of place as a high school student, despite only being 27. It is highly probable that the hair and makeup crew have failed when it comes to making him appear more youthful, though. As for the supporting cast, Kaitlyn Devers, Amandla Stenberg, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Danny Pino, and Colton Ryan all perform well as their respective characters.
While Dear Evan Hansen isn’t exactly a total disaster, it is a flawed movie musical that will probably frustrate and quite possibly, annoy anyone who has struggled with mental illnesses. While the movie doesn’t go for a ridiculous feel-good ending, it does come pretty damn close. And as anyone who has mental health problems knows, things don’t always work out smoothly in the end.