We have a few big screen adaptations of popular Broadway musicals headed our way, like it or not, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is definitely one of the more highly anticipated ones. Does Stephen Chbosky’s film version hit the right notes?
Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is your (stereo)typical angsty, nerdy, pill-popping high school teen. Nobody knows he exists until a misunderstanding leaves him the center of attention in the aftermath of a tragic loss.
Right off the bat, let’s get a few things straight. Ben Platt is a phenomenal vocalist. The amount of heartstrings he’s able to pull with just one inflection on a note is breathtaking. There’s a reason why his lead role in the original musical won so many awards and is loved by many. In this film however … he sticks out like a sore thumb.
It’s not that he’s a bad actor. I’ll rephrase that, it’s not like he’s a bad stage-actor. But that sort of hammy acting for the back seats kind of vibe does not translate to film well. Compared to his supporting cast, he seems to think he’s in a different kind of movie or he just didn’t get an important production memo.
Platt also doesn’t, in no way whatsoever, pass for the age he’s portraying. He’s almost comically ill-suited for the part. Aside from his obvious vocal strengths, he reduces his character to a set of mannerisms and ticks. None of which de-age him. It’s sad, because he’s obviously committed to something that simply doesn’t land.
Any other (vocal) surprises? Well we knew Amy Adams could cary a tune. Julianne Moore gets a powerful scene that she has no problem stealing from Platt, and she sounds great doing it. Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) is equally impressive. Even Amandla Stenberg wrings everything out of the little screen time she’s given with a new song written especially for the movie.
Dear Evan Hansen is a tearjerker, plain and simple. But it gets the emotional core right, which makes the catchy belted out songs hit even harder. Director Stephen Chbosky however chooses to underplay everything else on screen. No flashy camerawork, no fancy set design. Everything seems a little bland and cookie cutter, which in turn makes someone like Platt stand out even more. It’s frustrating, because most things about this film do actually work.
If you’re not a fan of manipulative weepy musicals, then Dear Evan Hansen will not change your mind. If you can get past the almost creepy-looking Platt in the lead then there’s plenty on display here to enjoy. Now get those tissues.
Reviewed on September 21, 2021. Rating: M. Running time: 137 min.
PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release of a Marc Platt Productions production in association with Perfect World Pictures. Producers: Marc Platt (p.g.a.) & Adam Siegel (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Michael Bederman, Steven Levenson, Stacey Mindich, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul.
CREW: Director: Stephen Chbosky. Writer: Steven Levenson (Based on the musical stage play by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul). Editing: Anne McCabe. Cinematography: Brandon Trost. Music: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul & Dan Romer.
CAST: Ben Platt, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Daniel Pino, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan, Nik Dodani, DeMarius Copes & Liz Kate.