An uncomfortable but heart-wrenching movie that deserves a second chance
Dear Evan Hansen is based on the award-winning musical of the same name with the show’s star, Ben Platt, returning to his role of Evan for the movie.
It might seem a little odd that Platt reprised his role as, at 27, he is a decade older than the high school student that he plays here. Still, it’s not uncommon for actors to portray characters that are a lot younger than their actual age although at the time of this movie’s release, there was a lot of criticism surrounding the casting of Platt, who many considered to be ‘too old’ for the part.
Admittedly, the actor doesn’t quite look like a teenager anymore, although it’s easy to forget his age when you start to get caught up in his performance. He still manages to pull off the innocent naivety of his character and he has the vocal talent the movie needs for some of its big musical numbers. As he already knows the character of Evan Hansen inside and out after portraying him on stage, he also has the experience to bring the luckless teenager, and all of his emotional baggage, to life on screen. As such, the fact that he was brought back as the lead isn’t actually that odd after all.
The plot revolves around a misunderstanding that spirals out of control. Evan is asked by his therapist to write letters to himself but unfortunately, one of these letters ends up in the hands of Connor Murphy, an out-of-control and unpopular student who later dies after taking his own life. Connor’s parents find the letter and assuming it was a note he had written for Evan, they visit the school and give it to him.
Evan doesn’t let on that he wrote the letter. In fact, he lets Connor’s parents believe that he was close friends with their son, as this seems to bring them a lot of peace and solace during their time of grief. Evan doesn’t only concoct the story of this apparent friendship to comfort the boy’s parents, however. He also fabricates the truth to get closer to Connor’s sister as he has a secret crush on her.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, if you have seen the musical, you will know that lots of things go wrong after people start buying into Evan’s lie. It has damaging consequences for Evan and Connor’s family and it undermines the fundraising project that Evan’s school sets up in Connor’s name. Despite the problems the lie causes, however, there is good that comes from it but to say any more would mean venturing into spoiler territory which I won’t do here.
Evan’s actions are morally reprehensible so the story is quite problematic. At times, we are supposed to feel sorry for him, even though he has used a classmate’s suicide as a means to get close to the girl he likes. Evan isn’t actually an unlikeable character though, so there are times when you still might feel sympathy for him. And the fact that he is as broken and confused as Connor was does give some context to the lies he spins, so you might be able to tolerate his plight, even if his actions can be considered outwardly deplorable.
If you can get over the sticking point that is the central premise, there is a lot to like about Dear Evan Hansen. It successfully showcases the things people will do when a close loved one dies, such as the ways in which Connor’s parents desperately try to keep their son alive by learning more about him from his peers. And the movie mostly succeeds in its exploration of mental health themes, not only in the moments when it touches upon Connor’s inner battles but when revealing more about Evan and his anxiety-induced problems too.
The songs are all very good so even if you struggle with the story, you might emotionally get swept up in these. And the performances are all stellar. We have already mentioned Platt but special credit needs to be given to Julianne Moore as his fatigued mother and to Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever who portray Connor’s mother and sister respectively. These aren’t the only good performances as the entire cast do justice to the characters they have been tasked with portraying so everybody deserves some commendation.
Ultimately, this is a mixed bag of a movie. There will be some who will dismiss it because of Evan’s behaviour and I can understand that. But with its sensitive handling of such subjects as suicide, teenage isolation, and the complications of parental grief, there is still a well-thought-out story here, even if it is, on the surface, quite problematic.
If you can give Dear Evan Hansen a chance, in the same way people should have given Connor a chance before they unfairly dismissed him as a weirdo, you might appreciate this movie. Chances are, it might also resonate with you, as you may have been affected by the themes that are touched upon here.
Verdict - 6.5/10