Dear Evan Hansen – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams
In cinemas October 22nd
Adaptations of stage musicals are really having a cinematic moment. This latest addition to the genre, like so many others, is a teen coming of age drama. And like so many others in the genre the lead teen roles are played by adults.
Lead actor Ben Platt, who plays the Evan Hansen of the title, is actually 28. However, this is far from a new phenomenon (just look at the Grease cast who were all long graduated high school) especially, when the subject matter is sensitive, as it is here since it tells the story of the aftermath of a teen suicide.
Platt originated the role on stage so obviously is very comfortable in it. We first meet Evan Hansen writing letters to himself on the advice of his therapist, who claims it will help him cope with his social anxiety. After a classmate, Connor (Ryan) takes one of his letters off the school printer it is found on his person after he kills himself. This leads the boy’s parents to assume that he and Evan were great friends. This misconception quickly snowballs throughout the school and Evan goes along with the lie. When The Connor Project is set up to honour his memory, Evan begins to panic and it’s only a matter of time before his lies implode.
I haven’t seen the stage version of this, but I know it has a huge fanbase who have all been eagerly awaiting this film. However, they have changed some elements of the show including deleting songs and reducing some characters while increasing others. This has received a mixed reaction from fans who have already seen it, but I can only judge this on the movie.
The film never quite figures out how to compress the huge energy of the stage to the screen. Many of the numbers are far too “theatrical” for film. The cast does a good job with what they are given but no amount of soft lighting or make-up can make Platt a convincing teenager. While he has the vocal chops for this role casting a younger actor would have definitely made it feel more authentic.
This is extremely hit and miss. There are plenty of cringeworthy scenes but also some lovely moments. It also suffers when compared to other recent stage-to-screen adaptations such as There’s Something About Jamie as they managed the transition so much better. Had they simply filmed the stage performance like Hamilton did this may have worked but instead, this is messy and unsatisfying.