This weekend marked the release of “Dear Evan Hansen,” the movie adaptation of the eponymous Tony Award-winning musical. The film stars Ben Platt in the titular role, as well as Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams.
The story surrounds Evan Hansen, a neurotic, anxious 17-year-old high school student and the complicated situation that he gets himself into.
From that description, the film sounds like a comedy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a few comedic moments, but this film is most definitely a drama.
To start with positives, I think that the music is fairly good in this movie. Not every song is a hit, but the movie showcases the award-winning songs from Pasek and Paul fairly well, at least musically speaking. If you are a fan of Pasek and Paul’s other work, including songs from “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land,” you will enjoy the music of this film.
Another aspect that I like about this film is its willingness to showcase the gray areas of morality in characters. The lead characters of “Dear Evan Hansen” all do some truly immoral, unjust things. Too often, movies fail to show contradictions in human behavior, as they often showcase a black and white view of the world through their storytelling and characters. All of the characters of “Dear Evan Hansen” are unlikeable to a certain degree, which does make the film more interesting as a result.
That being said, I sincerely doubt if that was the intention of the story, as there are many contradictions to that ambiguity. I think that the filmmakers yearned for us to have a greater emotional attachment to certain characters (most notably Evan Hansen), which is frankly impossible due to their truly immoral behavior. Additionally, the film blames these actions on certain characters’ mental illnesses, which certainly did play a role, but I feel this undercuts the message of the film. In doing so, the film is almost saying that having a mental illness causes one to take immoral actions and emotionally manipulate others, which most certainly is not true.
Unfortunately, this botched thematic execution is not “Dear Evan Hansen’s” only problem. The film struggles with its tone as well. As mentioned earlier, the premise sounds like a teen-comedy, but ultimately it is a melodramatic, slow-moving coming-of-age story. Except for one song, the film is dour in execution, lacking the comedic elements that would go along with a musical adaptation. “Dear Evan Hansen” definitely could have satirized its premise much further, which could have solved its character issues as well through clever irony.
Pacing is also a problem. The film really rushes through the first act, which is almost always a bad sign for a movie. It’s commonly said that if there is a problem in the third act of a movie, the true issue is with the first act. That is most definitely the case with this film, as the first act fails to properly emotionally attach us to Evan Hansen, ultimately lessening the effectiveness of the finale.
In the end, musicals are always difficult to adapt to the silver screen. That being said, “Dear Evan Hansen” truly made some major mistakes in storytelling and execution that turned an award-winning musical into a misguided, misfired film.