The film adaption of the Tony winning musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN was met with such apathy at the box office and online venom upon its release that I put it on the back burner. I had been really looking forward to seeing it after my friends and family that saw it on Broadway sung its praises.
The music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who also wrote the songs for two recent favorites, “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land”. Their blend of pop and traditional Broadway styles hit all the right notes for me in those two films. This is the first film adaption of their work from the stage (where it won six Tonys including Best Musical) to the big screen.
Needless to say, I went in with lowered expectations. But what I should have expected is that all the online bitching was mostly noise. It’s certainly not flawless and while star Ben Platt brings power and emotion to the title character, it is sometimes distracting that he appears awful old to be in high school.
Platt stars as a nearly invisible Evan. He’s riddled with severe social anxiety and depression. His opening song “Waving Through A Window” pretty much sums up not being one of the popular kids at any high school. He’s just wanting to be noticed in any fashion.
We meet several other students, Zoe (the excellent Kaitlyn Dever from “Booksmart”) her volatile and explosive brother Connor (Colton Ryan from the original Broadway cast), Evan’s reluctant friend Jared (Nik Dodani) and the “in charge of everything” Alana, very well played by Amanda Stenberg.
Through a contrived series of events that’s admittedly the weakest part of the film’s structure, everyone gets the impression that Evan is Connor’s only friend. When Connor commits suicide, his parents and sister Zoe believe that Evan has answers about their lost loved one.
As the events around that phantom friendship spin out of control into bigger and bigger ripples, you realize that the movie would be over if Evan just told the truth. But the relationships and happenings here do drive some great music and powerful scenes.
“You Will Be Found”, “The Anonymous Ones” and “For Forever” all leave you wrung out. Losing a loved family member is overpowering and having lived through that firestorm of emotions, there are moments that DEAR EVEN gets exactly right, as painful as they are to watch.
Julianne Moore is excellent as Evan’s mother Heidi, struggling to make ends meet and resentful of the relationship with and time that her son is spending with Colton’s wealthy parents Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Danny Pino). Adams is strong in her role, in complete denial of her son’s tragic path and shattered more than once as the truth proves elusive.
At the film’s core, Platt delivers powerhouse song after song. It’s clear that he starred in this role for many, many shows on Broadway and knows every nuance of Evan from the opening moments to the last. Yes, at 28 he’s too old for the part, but he brings a lot of intelligence to it, having lived it 8 shows a week. He’s excellent.
The vocal performances were recorded live on set and the entire cast delivers.
Sad and powerful, DEAR EVEN HANSEN gets a solid B.