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Dear Evan Hansen – Movie Review

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Dear Evan Hansen – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Dear Evan Hansen was a massive success on Broadway, so it made logical sense to adapt it for the screen. Director Stephen Chbosky attempts a naturalistic approach in adapting the show and he tries his best to handle the difficult subject matter. When it focuses on the grief felt by a family after a tragedy, the film can be quite effective. The songs are also well written, which allows it to not be too jarring when this teen drama launches into musical numbers. The main problem comes, curiously enough, with the title character. Evan Hansen is the least interesting personality on screen and it makes his behaviour even more tricky to get behind.

The film seems inspired by John Hughes movies when showing these teenagers dealing with their troubles. In the beginning, Hansen is quite sympathetic as we see him coping with his mental health and he attempts to navigate high school. Steven Levenson’s screenplay also manages to interject humour at certain points without feeling tonally inappropriate. The songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are nicely written, mixing solid melodies with sentimental lyrics. When the movie launches into a musical number, they work in showing what the characters are feeling in each moment. At times, characters sing what sounds like dialogue to everyone else in the scene, which manages to be a rather clever device.

When Connor Murphy commits suicide, the movie manages to show how his family is feeling and how each react differently. Kaitlyn Dever especially proves to be the cast stand-out as his sister and manages to show her conflicting emotions over Connor. What works against Dear Evan Hansen is Evan himself. He’s a bit of a bore and isn’t developed as well as he should. This becomes an issue the more one thinks about his behaviour. Some actions could be excused as mere teenage immaturity, but he makes a decision early on that is baffling. The way his lie escalates becomes harder to watch unfold.

As the story progresses, Evan goes from being just a dull character to flat-out unlikeable. One just begins to feel even worse for the Murphy family and everything they have to deal with. The message is about learning lessons and being careful about how you deal with awkward situations, but the execution of Evan’s arc muddles the theme. The final act is especially hard to watch, not helped by how drawn out it feels. Much has been said about Ben Platt being a lot older than the teenager he plays, although the age difference between performer and character is a normal occurrence in movies. It’s only a distraction if you let it be. When Platt sings the songs, he’s clearly putting his heart into it.

Some viewers will watch Dear Evan Hansen and hear a message that they needed to hear. It’s important to address mental health and how many young people can feel unwanted and alone. Where the film falls short is in tackling Evan’s decision making and how his lie spirals out of control. It sends another unintended message that if something tragic happens to you, someone else will try to take advantage of it. The movie can occasionally be a frustrating watch as we see Evan fumble around instead of nipping things in the bud. The songs are able to keep the film somewhat watchable, though, as do the performances from the cast.

Stefan Ellison

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