Reviews | Written by Joel Harley 20/10/2021

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

The enormously popular Broadway musical takes to the silver screen in this movie adaptation by Stephen Chbosky and screenwriter Steven Levinson. Troubled ‘teenager’ Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) finds his life spiralling out of control when a writing exercise from his therapist falls into the wrong hands. As Evan’s letter winds up with the grieving parents of a teen who took his own life, Evan quickly becomes a fixture at the family dinner table. In dear Evan Hansen, the Murphys (Amy Adams, Danny Pino) find a way to connect with their dead child, getting to know him through Evan’s stories and anecdotes. In the Murphys, dear Evan Hansen learns to grow in confidence and kickstart a movement and a moment. The problem? Dear Evan Hansen is a fraud, and his stories are all bullshit.

Depending on how you look at it, dear Evan Hansen is either a duplicitous outsider infiltrating the ranks of a grieving family, or a well-meaning dimwit who gets caught in a lie and in over his own head. Like the broadway show, Chbosky’s adaptation is neither chilling horror movie nor farcical comedy, and plays dear Evan’s plight with a straight face. If ever The Guest: The Musical or an all-singing, all-dancing Talented Mister Ripley is greenlit, producers could do far worse than to look to Dear Evan Hansen for inspiration.

Dear Evan Hansen’s creepy vibes are only exacerbated by flat and pallid cinematography, largely refusing to give in to flights of fantasy or out-there imagery. That works for the songs, which are heartfelt, heart-breaking and human – full of a very real pain and torment – but whenever the singing stops, the creepiness returns. Platt gives it his all, but all is too much, in a role which threatens to cross the line into Tropic Thunder-style caricature.

There’s the germ of a great movie there, if Chbosky and the stage show writers (Levinson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) had been interested in dissecting the performative activism of dear Evan Hansen’s classmates. But there’s no self-awareness to it, even as dear Evan Hansen becomes an Internet sensation and starts making moves on the dead guy’s sister. In cutting one of the show’s best songs (“Good For You”), the film not only loses out on more Julianne Moore, it’s also missing anyone to call dear Evan Hansen out on his grotesque behaviour. Depiction is not necessarily endorsement, but in playing this out as an uplifting coming-of-age story, it looks a lot like it.

Which is frustrating, as the songs are truly great. The show’s biggest numbers, “Waving Through a Window” and “You Will be Found” are so good that it becomes easy to overlook how creepy the rest of the story is. “Sincerely, Me” injects a much-needed sense of humour, while “Requiem” gives the Murphys a chance to join in on the singing too. With the mighty “Disappear” also cut, the film doesn’t give anyone who isn’t dear Evan Hansen much of a look-in. Classmate Alana (Amandla Stenberg) gets her own brand-new-for-the-movie song, but it doesn’t hit nearly as hard as “Good For You” or “To Break In a Glove” would have.

With a songbook like that, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion and taken in by dear Evan Hansen. Like its lead character, it’s a guilt trip, exploiting all-too-real mental health issues for its own shady purposes. It’s a dark psychological horror film repackaged as a sweet coming-of-age musical for the ‘who cares if it’s not true if it makes you feel good about yourself’ crowd. Dear Evan Hansen is the most unsettling movie musical since Cats.