The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen is a solid gateway towards introducing movie goers, like me, to the award-winning stage production its adapted from. The movie creates curiosity and builds interest for those who have been wanting to see it and missed out on the opportunity to do so.
While I knew what the musical was about, I didn’t expect the tone to be so heavy. Dear Evan Hansen offers little levity, which may be why it cuts to the emotional core for theatre goers (who can, at least, gather themselves during an intermission). At 137 minutes, especially for newcomers, the film adaptation can be overwhelming. It’s sensitive and considerate without being manipulative, but it’s a lot for audiences to unpack. When the film’s only upbeat song plays during the first third of Dear Evan Hansen, it lightens the atmosphere instantly – it’s a much needed change in tone and the movie’s best segment.
Along with the movie’s weight, the characters in this movie aren’t as well-rounded as we want them to be. The movie does a good job at establishing motives with emotional support, and we believe in the relationships that form over the film’s primary tragedy. But, the movie doesn’t dig much deeper than its surface. A good example of this is Ben Platt’s portrayal of the titular high schooler. Platt, who has won a Tony, a Grammy, and an Emmy for his performance as Evan Hansen before, has received a lot of criticism for his age gap between himself and Hansen but, for me, it was hardly noticeable. Maybe it’s because I identified with Evan Hansen looking like a lanky, awkward outsider. A much more glaring issue, however, is how Hansen’s anxiety is portrayed. Platt’s acting tends to emphasize ticks and mannerisms, which may translate better on stage than in cinematic close-ups. It’s a relief when Hansen is finally classified as someone with severe anxiety because the audience is tired of trying to diagnose him without being offensive Perhaps, these characters have more of a nuanced identity on stage.
Despite its surface qualities though, I still enjoyed this version of Dear Evan Hansen. The qualified cast (including Amy Adams and Julianne Moore) stand out individually and sound incredible, and director Stephen Chbosky, who taps into familiar vibes from his earlier work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, choreographs the story and its musical numbers well. But most importantly, Chbosky handles the subject matter delicately and respectfully. The approach is essentially a less comedic and relentless version of World’s Greatest Dad, but works nonetheless because it’s able to hit genuine notes (no pun intended).
Dear Evan Hansen is a long doozy of a movie, but it’s certainly worth checking out.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie