You know what they say about the road to Hell…
“Dear Evan Hansen” is based on the 2015 stage musical of the same name, and features Ben Platt reprising his titular role as a socially awkward high school student who finds himself caught up in a lie involving a recently deceased classmate. Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Danny Pino, and Colton Ryan also star while Stephen Chbosky directs.
I didn’t know much about this film until recently, not even that it was based off a successful musical (I assumed it had been a YA novel or something, since everything is based off an IP nowadays). There has been some heat on the internet surrounding the casting of 27-year-old Ben Platt (whose father also produced the film) as a high school student, as well as the questionable morality of the film’s plot, and while both of these are valid complaints that are hard to completely ignore while watching “Dear Evan Hansen,” the film makes up for it with some catchy songs and solid performances.
Ben Platt made his theatrical debut as a college student in 2012’s “Pitch Perfect” and here we are a full nine years later and he has regressed into high school. The film tries its best to pass him off as a fresh-faced teen but it is often hard to buy. Sometimes a performance or narrative is so engrossing that it is easy to ignore mid-20-somethings playing high schoolers (Tobey Maguire in “Spider-Man” or the entire cast of “Scream”) but here Platt is too distracting. His performance is solid enough, with some scenes of genuine emotion, but his singing is hit or miss (it may be the songwriters’ fault but his octaves just seem too high sometimes) and he has an ugly cry face (which doesn’t help the “looking old” thing).
I enjoyed Nik Dodani’s performance as Platt’s friend, he has a few amusing quips, and Kaitlyn Dever, whom I’ve been a fan of for years, continues to show why she is a rising star with some nice work as the sister of Platt’s deceased classmate. And God bless Amy Adams, even with a middling script like this she is determined to sell it. Playing a grieving mother desperate to latch onto any positive memory of her son, Adams is one of the only consistently genuine things about the film, and while it obviously won’t earn her another Oscar nomination to inevitably lose, it is a solid performance.
The musical was created by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman,” so obviously there are going to be a few banger songs and dance sequences. I particularly liked “Sincerely, Me,” which is pretty comical as well as probably the most toe-tapping of the whole film. Some of the other songs are entertaining, too, but there are some that seem out of place (and a few cringe-worthy “talk-sing” monologues).
People on Twitter have questioned the morality of the film, centering on a character who exaggerates his friendship with a dead student simply to make the parents feel better, and if that offends you then I can’t tell you that you’re wrong. It never stopped me from fully enjoying things as I think it is handled as well as one could possibly expect a premise like this to be handled, but it’s worth noting.
“Dear Evan Hansen” wears its heart on its sleeve and tries to be something a little different in the pretty worn teen drama genre. Not everything sticks and you feel the 136-minute runtime (this could’ve easily ran 100 minutes and been a better, slicker experience), but if you like your movies covered in cheese and built to contrive the tissues, then this is your ticket.
Critics Rating: 6/10