Opening October 28, 2021
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Writing credits: Steven Levenson
Principal Actors: Ben Platt, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Danny Pino
Film adaptations of musicals are definitely having a moment right now—though what can be magic on stage doesn’t always translate to success on the big screen. Such is the uneven result of Stephen Chbosky’s screen adaptation of the 2015 award winning musical Dear Evan Hansen.
Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) suffers from massive social anxiety. Following his therapist’s instructions, he types an upbeat letter to himself meant to boost his self-confidence on the first day of his senior year. However, classmate and social outcast Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) steals it from the printer and interprets a few lines about the crush Hansen has on his sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) as an attempt to mock him. After an angry exchange, the only time they’ve ever spoken to each other, Connor steals the letter and commits suicide later that day. His distraught parents find it and assume it was a suicide note written to Evan, his one and only friend.
Face to face with Connor’s grief-stricken parents, Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Danny Pino), Evan is crippled by anxiety over how to correct this misunderstanding. Not wanting to crush Mrs. Murphy’s hope her son may have had a friend after all, Evan lets them believe the lie, later embellishing the fictitious friendship with fake emails and inspiring a social media movement when a video of his song “You Will Be Found” goes viral. Becoming a kind of spokesperson for the many emotional struggles teens cope with nowadays, his popularity soars and Evan grapples with how to restore his integrity and find the strength to just be himself and tell the truth.
While the overall message of the film, like the musical, is quite uplifting and shines a light on the very real problem of teen mental health issues, the story comes off as cloying and manipulative more often than it should. That said, its attempts at humor often hit their mark, and the acting, excepting 27-year-old Platt who has clearly been cast for his voice, is quite good. Ironically, it is the strength of Chbosky’s A-list cast that makes it so hard to suspend judgment and go along with the story for entertainment’s sake. But when the narrative turns to song and, especially if you are a fan of musicals, it almost succeeds at doing just that. Regardless of how blatantly it’s pulling at our heartstrings and how wrong it is to misappropriate a suicide victim’s memory, there are moments where you genuinely feel for Evan Hansen, Connor’s family, and the plight of so many struggling teens in the world right now. 137 minutes (.)