Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer: Steven Levenson
Starring: Ben Platt, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Danny Pino, and Colton Ryan
The release of Dear Evan Hansen, in the UK at least, has been overshadowed by over big releases and is barely getting showings at a lot of cinemas. It’s ironic that a film about feeling isolated and like no one can see you, is hard to find a screening for. The film is an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name and is written by Steven Levenson who also wrote the stage musical. The Perks of Being a Wallflower writer and director Stephen Chbosky directs the adaptation, melding the stage play into a new format.
Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) suffers from severe social anxiety and is a loner at school. He starts the new school year with an assignment from his therapist to write letters to himself in the morning, willing a positive day ahead. After the first day back doesn’t go as planned, he writes a more negative letter to himself. Connor (Colton Ryan), the only person to sign Evan’s cast for his broken arm, finds the letter and takes it with him. Later, the letter is mistaken for Connor’s suicide note, giving much hope to, Connor’s mother Cynthia (Amy Adams) that Connor had at least one friend. Not wanting to make the grief worse, Evan goes along with lie and pretends that he was friends with Connor, until it spirals completely out of control.
While the film does hold a lot of emotional weight, it never feels like it really tackles the deceit at the centre of its plot. Evan’s letter to himself really annoys Connor, and the next thing we know about Connor is that he’s committed suicide. It’s not a big leap to assume that it’s the letter that pushed him over the edge, so not only does Evan potentially hold some blame for Connor’s suicide, but he also places himself at the centre of the grieving family, telling lies that will eventually come out and make everything worse. There is a really dark undercurrent to the film that isn’t really explored. Evan isn’t really punished for lying and that sums up the film’s biggest issue. It doesn’t know how to tackle its own plot.
Despite that, it is still a very moving film. As the audience you are asked to make your own mind up whether Evan does the right thing or not by lying. It’s undeniable that it gets out of control, but when Evan is first presented with the lie it’s debatable whether it was the right thing or not. Regardless of how you feel, the film does a good job at making you feel sympathy for Evan and why he follows the path he does. Through Connor’s family he finds what has been missing in his own life. Even though you know the revelation must happen, by the time it does happen you really don’t want it to, and that’s a testament to how good the performance is. Ben Platt, who is reprising his role from the original stage production, obviously knows the character inside and out. There isn’t anyone else who could do Evan justice in the same way on screen.
The film does a decent job at tackling mental illness, through Evan and those around him. One of the central themes is that you can never tell who is dealing with depression or anxiety, that a lot of people hide it, and that’s shown really well throughout, especially in context of social media and modern life. The Song ‘The Anonymous Ones’ is when this is really shown and it’s one of the best songs in the musical.
‘The Anonymous Ones’ is one of two new songs that aren’t part of the stage musical. It’s a great addition to the soundtrack, which is already filled with upbeat and catchy songs. There isn’t really an ear worm song that will stay with you for days after watching it, but they all fit and work nicely in the film itself. There is a great song, ‘Sincerely Me’, which is where Evan is faking emails that he and Connor wrote to each other. It’s a funny and upbeat moment and one of the highlights of the film.
Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t quite pack the punch it’s trying to, but it’s still a moving story. It deals with mental illness in a powerful way and does have a lot of moving moments. Sadly, the central lie isn’t really dealt with properly and the ending doesn’t quite feel complete because of it. The songs are still great and it’s still entertaining while you’re watching it.
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