Review: Dear Evan Hansen better as a musical than a film


Having received a multitude of negative reviews, the film Dear Evan Hansen, directed by Stephen Chbosky, started on the back foot. The film focuses on Evan, played by Ben Platt – who was the original Evan in the Broadway cast of the musical back in 2015 – a socially anxious and lonely 17-year-old struggling with the pressures of high school.

The original musical, written by Steven Levenson, begins with Evan writing a letter to himself, advised to do so by his therapist. Intended to empower and motivate him to remain positive about his personal growth, Evan tries to write about the good elements of his day. However, on this specific day, Evan writes a negative and self-deprecating letter, which ends up in the hands of Connor Ryan (played by Colton Ryan), another loner at school.

A few days later, Evan is informed that Connor has committed suicide and that he left a note for him – the letter being Evan’s therapy assignment. Connor’s parents, Cynthia and Larry (Amy Adams and Danny Pino), assuming that Connor left his final words for his ‘best friend’ Evan, are desperate to find answers and request that Evan tells them all about his and Connor’s friendship.

Initially, Evan is in shock and aims to console Cynthia’s grief. Here the lie begins. As the film goes on, Evan’s lie gets bigger and becomes almost sociopathic, especially when he falls in love with Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever).

It is undeniable that Platt is incredibly musically talented, and his voice touches the audience, especially in the song ‘You Will be Found’. However, this show remains much stronger as a musical than a film.

With such a dark storyline, the film relies on how much you are willing to forgive Evan for his lies and manipulation. While his friendship with Connor may be a misunderstanding, Evan waits a long time to ‘fess up, and gains a lot before doing so. He appears to use Connor’s suicide to gain a girlfriend in Zoe, a second family in Cynthia and Larry, and popularity.

Throughout the film, it is a struggle to get over the fact that Platt was 26 at the time of filming, and looks a lot older than the rest of the teenage and young adult cast.

The production team aimed to remedy this large age gap with facial prosthetics and a curly mop of hair on his head. On a theatre stage, this perhaps wouldn’t have been much of an issue given that the audience is further away. On the big screen, however, these details are magnified.

Filmed in the pandemic, the shots mainly focus on him and his monologues. The unforgiving lighting makes his face look pale, and his anxious walk looks more like an elderly hobble.

However, despite the issues with the storyline, this film brings to light issues of mental health problems, especially depression and suicide. Connor’s sister, Zoe, tries to navigate grieving a brother who she only knows as a bully and monster. The students at the high school create a fundraiser for an orchard that was Connor’s favourite place. However, are they doing this for themselves or in memory of Connor, a classmate they barely took the time to know?

While many might criticise the storyline and Evan’s poor judgements, he does not remain the hero, and the themes discussed may well spark important conversations between viewers about mental illness.

Dear Evan Hansen remains in cinemas for the next few weeks.

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