I said on the Venom: Let Their Be Carnage episode that I was going to do a Dear Venom Hansen bit before Sony got cold feet and moved Venom’s release date, resulting in Dear Evan Hansen and Venom no longer sharing an opening weekend. Let this poster be a Tomb Stone for a bit that had such a bright future, yet died too young.
Who would have thought that 2021 (or more accurately 2020) would have been the year of the movie musical? In the Heights, Vivo, Tick Tick Boom, Annette, Cyrano, and now Dear Evan Hansen. Subsisting in the shadow of Hamilton is not an enviable position for any musical, but this show has been living rent-free in the shadows of Hamilton since it debuted in 2015. Having the dubious honor of being the first Broadway musical to win the Tony after Hamilton changed the game.
Dear Evan Hansen more or less followed this by taking the game right back to where it started. With a number of catchy songs surrounded by some more forgettable songs, Dear Evan Hansen never quite popped out of the Broadway bubble into pop culture yet somehow it managed to leap the 20-year gap that seems de rigor for most movie musicals and graces the screen only six years after its Broadway debut. It would have been released even quicker had the pandemic not held it back to repeat a grade.
Much has already been said about the miscasting of Ben Platt reprising his role as the titular Evan Hansen. Having the twenty-eight-year-old actor portray a teenager surrounded by other age-appropriate actors or at the very least look like high school students. I will wide step this well-tread criticism other than to say, I agree.
But if you manage to get past the uncanny valley of Platt’s Mrs. Doubtfire level makeup, I found his performance to be an oddity. Polarizing might be the best description. The movie begins with Platt being so awkward he resembles a person with emotional 3rd-degree burns. I haven’t seen anyone die from being awkward before but Platt gives a worthy portrayal. Evan conveys an expression that communicates every second he’s alive is agony and that he might keel over at any minute. But once he opens his mouth to sing, the character comes to life. Ben Platt sings his damn heart out in this movie and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t choke up a number of times. It was a dehydrating experience, to say the least. Having seen both the play and the movie, it’s a shame that the mistake the movie makes is such an egregious one because in almost every other respect I preferred the film to the play. There is a thick layer of cynicism in the play that the movie side steps for earnestness. Maybe I’ve just OD’d on cynicism in the wake of the pandemic, that paired with the countless cynical approaches to stories in high school. This seemed like a welcome respite compared to something like Gossip Girl, Heathers, or Euphoria. The subject matter in the film is no less heavy than some of those other titles but Evan Hansen has its heart exposed front and center and I appreciated that in a world full of stories where its high school characters don’t care or are too cool for school.
Another department the movie overperforms the Broadway show is in its casting. The cast here is absolutely stacked; Kaitlyn Dever, Julian Moore, Amy Adams, but the true stand out, in my opinion, is the relatively unknown Colton Ryan as Connor Murphy, the boy who kills himself. His suicide gets this story of mistaken identity and deceit rolling. It’s a shame that his role is confined to mostly the inciting incident. While he is only on screen for a few brief minutes he made an impression and I was hoping the movie would surprise us and find more places to include him as he was a real bright spot. As soon as he leaves the picture, he takes his star power and energy with him, and the movie loses a bit of its shine.
Overall I think this movie is doomed to be an outcast, rejected by the mainstream as a popular punching bag and wellspring for memes, while also being targeted by musical theater purists who reject any changes (necessary or not) that were made in adapting this title for the screen. As someone who lies somewhere between both camps, I found myself really enjoying what the movie got right. I know this is a very unpopular opinion on the internet but I find myself in the unenviable position of being an unlikely defender of Dear Evan Hansen. Like a good friend who gets canceled by the public, I feel the pressure to turn on it to save face but in spite of all this pressure and mounting criticism, I can’t help but feel compelled to stand by my problematic friend, even in the face of (sometimes necessary) criticism. I do not disagree with the mountain of criticism that exists for this film. I hear it, I see it, and I sometimes even agree with it. But Dear Evan Hansen also had some important things to say. It doesn’t always get the words right, and it does have some glaring issues, particularly with the romantic relationship with the dead boy’s sister (also exhaustively covered elsewhere), yet the film still moved me in spite of all that. To me, that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. Dear Evan Hansen isn’t the train wreck the internet desperately wants it to be. If you open your heart to the movie and hear what it has to say, I think you’ll find that Dear Evan Hansen is Alright Alright Alright. (3/5)