Better Left on the Stage: A Review of “Dear Evan Hansen”

Film adaptation of award-winning musical falls flat.

Better Left on the Stage: A Review of “Dear Evan Hansen”

I make little to no secret that I am a theatre kid. It made up the entirety of my personality in middle school, and it’s been a part of my life ever since.

Naturally, when I heard that a movie adaptation of the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” was in the works, I was apprehensive. Movie musicals always seem to be hit or miss—no one wants to remember the 2019 remake of “Cats,” but everyone loved “In the Heights.”

I’ve seen “Dear Evan Hansen” live. I’ve read the book. I’ve listened to the soundtrack. By all means, this film was set up to be something fantastic.

And then the headlines began to roll in.

“Ghoulish Ben Platt sinks high school musical,” read The Guardian.

“Dear Evan Hansen the Movie Barely Has a Plot,” said Time Magazine.

“‘Dear Evan Hansen’ movie is an embarrassment,” remarked Washington Square News.

Not exactly the reviews you’d expect from a Best Musical winner.

Of course, I went and saw the movie as soon as I could.

If you don’t know the plot, it goes something like this: Evan Hansen is a socially awkward high school senior who ends up telling a lie about the recently passed Connor Murphy that quickly spirals into something larger than he can handle. The story revolves around the impact social media has on the lives of teenagers, and the way it feels to be found.

In its time, it was inspirational. But in the film, the message reads almost tacky. It’s a trend I’ve started to notice with movies that revolve around modern technology: they’re never made by people who actually use apps like Snapchat or Instagram, and that creates a sense of almost disconnect with the target audience. The jokes in “Dear Evan Hansen” don’t feel like things I, a teenager, would say to other people my age. If anything, it’s a halfhearted attempt at resonating with the youth of today, and halfhearted is a nice way of putting it.

As is the main issue of most movie musicals, the songs simply don’t flow well in the structure of a film. Many big numbers consisted of Evan just standing there, singing. It’s boring to watch, and I can’t imagine it being any more fun to film. One of the only stand-out songs that remained from the source material is “Sincerely Me,” but even this rendition lacks heart. I did think the arcade sequence was fun, though.

Granted, I did enjoy the two songs added to the score. Alana’s “The Anonymous Ones” gave the audience a nice view of her as a character, and I feel Connor’s song, “A Little Closer,” helped humanize him. But I’ll never forgive the creators of the movie for removing “Good For You.” Not even the cheeky little brass cover of it at the beginning of the film makes up for that loss.

One of the biggest controversies surrounding “Dear Evan Hansen” arises from the casting of the titular character: Ben Platt originated the role on Broadway in 2017 when he was 24. At the time of filming the movie, he was 26. Evan Hansen is supposed to be a senior in high school.

Of course, fictional teenagers are hardly ever played by actors their age, but when the actress playing Evan’s love interest, Kaitlyn Dever, was twenty at the time of filming, the disparity between their ages is even more apparent. Evan could easily be Zoe’s babysitter, never mind her boyfriend, and the foundation they caked onto Ben Platt’s face doesn’t hide his wrinkles.

To make things even more odd, in an interview regarding his casting, Ben stated, “Were I not to do the movie, it probably wouldn’t get made.”

Was Ben included in “Dear Evan Hansen” because the film’s producer was Marc Platt, his father? We can only speculate, but I have a suspicion that nepotism is at play here.

Overall, I’ll give “Dear Evan Hansen” a 4/10. I’d rather have watched a pro-shot of the original musical on a stage, as it was intended to be seen. In my opinion, it would’ve been a far better use of a Sunday afternoon.