Dear Evan Hansen: From the Broadway Stage to the Silver Screen / Gracie Lee
When lyricists Justin Paul and Benj Pasek composed and published Dear Evan Hansen in 2015, it didn’t take long for the musical to rise to national fame and win six Tony awards on Broadway’s big stage. After Ben Platt’s portrayal of Evan Hansen in the original cast, the musical continued to run and cast household names like Andrew Barth Feldman and Jordan Fisher as the title role. When Marc Platt Productions and Perfect World Pictures announced the release of the upcoming film, for Sep. 24, fans of the musical waited with bated breath.
27-year-old Ben Platt reprised his role as Evan, with Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe, Colton Ryan as Connor, and Amy Adams as Mrs. Cynthia Murphy. Although the songs “Anybody Have a Map?,” “Disappear,” and “To Break in a Glove” were excluded from the film, new selections were composed for Ryan and Amandla Stenberg, who had a strong supporting role as Alana Beck.
The coming-of-age musical has heavy, serious content concerning teens’ struggles with mental health and even suicide. When high schooler Evan Hansen starts off a new semester, he doesn’t expect a writing assignment from his therapist to fall into the hands of Connor Murphy. After Connor takes his own life, his grieving parents find the note addressed “Dear Evan Hansen,” and signed “Sincerely, me.” Their mistaken belief that their son had one friend leads to their relationship with Evan. Their daughter, Zoe, who Evan has feelings for, struggles to come to terms with her brother’s death, and the two’s relationship eventually begins to blossom. The film climaxes when Evan realizes the web of lies he has created–and must attempt to untangle.
What the audience sees throughout this movie is Evan’s own struggle with depression and anxiety. It greatly inhibits his ability to converse or enjoy social functions and is the reason for his own failed suicide attempt in the past. Stenberg’s solo “The Anonymous Ones” offers an inside look at what teens with mental health issues feel. They try to hide their struggles from their peers, who are also hurting underneath their masks of popularity and school spirit.
Although Platt’s performance is riveting, audiences struggled with the drastic age gap between him and the character he portrays. Unlike Dever, Ryan, and Stenberg, who are aged 24, 26, and 22, Platt has aged six years since his debut on Broadway. Production skillfully dressed him in baggy clothes and brushed out his skin, but viewers still had a hard time swallowing the image of the adult in boy’s clothing.
Scenes where the movie could have used full advantage of its resources were often lacking. Many songs were performed standing at tables or sitting on couches for several minutes at a time. B-roll footage was even reused multiple times. Platt’s facial expressions and animation were also reminiscent of his career on the stage and contrasted strongly with his co-stars’ more subtle emotions. However, “Sincerely, Me” lightened the mood considerably and showed off the talents’ comedic abilities. Connor and Evan performed ridiculous antics while reading out fake emails to each other, giving the sequence a music video quality. This is not unlike what fans probably envisioned when they first listened to the album.
Adams gave a heart wrenching performance as the grieving Cynthia Murphy. Her eyes tell the story, and her range as an actress is solid. This film was no exception. Director Stephen Chbosky took advantage of her and Danny Pino’s (Larry Murphy) vocals in “Requiem.” This melody, also sung by Dever, was lilting and compelling. It is this family’s broken heart that makes Evan’s deceit a hard pill to swallow. It’s difficult not to sympathize with him, because of his own struggles. However, he uses his “friendship” with Connor for social gain, acceptance from peers, and eventually, a romantic relationship. What he has longed for during countless years has finally dropped on his plate, and he can’t bring himself to refuse it–no matter the immediate cost to the Murphys. His immense guilt during “Words Fail” makes it apparent that he has suffered enough already, but it does not excuse his actions.
Julianne Moore’s (Heidi Hansen) beautiful rendition of “So Big/So Small” depicts a single mother’s struggle to support her son in the lyrics, “And I knew I’d come up short a billion different ways. And I did. And I do. And I will.” Despite its technical faults, the story ends with some redemptive qualities, and the message shines through: no one is alone. Or, as Evan puts it: “You will be found.”