Dear Evan Hansen is a musical that, despite some of its shortcomings, manages to enthrall & inspire. Effective in every way, the narrative finds a way through the cracks infecting all who stick through and allow it to grab hold. A beautiful tribute to the anonymous ones.
Evan is a high school senior with severe social anxiety who receives an assignment from his therapist to write motivational letter to himself to improve his disposition in life as well as increase his self-worth. Connor, a fellow student, takes his own life after stealing one of Evan’s letters causing his parents to believe the words written by Evan are his final. A letter written to his Dear friend, Evan Hansen. Though well intentioned at first, Evan propels the misunderstanding and ingratiates himself into the family’s life learning, for the first time, what belonging truly feels like.
Trigger warning: the film deals with depression & self-harm– a fact so many are using to claim this film is less than it is.
This is a truly delightful film that handles the subject matter well. Lets travel back to 1997 when Roberto Benigni & Vincenzo Cerami wrote La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful), a film that also offended people much in the way Dear Evan Hansen does. Though many still find Life is Beautiful infuriating it is widely regarded as a masterpiece, turning the negativity surrounding it into nothing more than cathartic writing. Dear Evan Hansen touches a similar nerve and much of the publicity coming out about it feels in the same vain.
Though not perfect, Dear Evan Hansen is powerful, bringing audiences a multi-faceted story that deals with grief, belonging, acceptance, and mental illness. Steven Levenson wrote a brilliantly raw book and screenplay that shines a light back on us, exposing things many of us have never even considered. Thoughts thrust to the deepest parts of our psyche, hidden from ourselves. I wonder if that’s why so many people feel the need to degrade the film. Because they hate seeing, knowing, and feeling the the truths that threaten to expose us to ourselves.
Stephen Chbosky adapted one of my favorite films of the last decade, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which also happens to be his directorial debut. His work on Dear Evan Hansen does not quite hit that mark, which is unfortunate. I can’t help but wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that he has never done a musical before. There are moments and decisions that miss the mark and some of the songs go on a bit long or don’t take the appropriate amount of beats. There is also a eye-rolling moment during “You Will Be Found” that completely takes you out of the film. A moment so forced it hurts.
There are two clear standout elements that make this film truly memorable. First off, the music & lyrics are clever, catchy, and inspiring, evoking every emotion during its 137 minute runtime. The performances are the other element that elevate this film. Our cast, manages to capture each character beautifully. Yes, Julianne Moore & Amy Adams deliver big but the standouts are Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, & Ben Platt who make us fall in love with their characters. Ben Platt gives a career high performance and hands down one of the strongest and most believable performances of the year.
This is one that gave me all the feels, bringing this cold critic to tears on more than one occasion. I really hope that people can overlook the film’s flaws and swallow their bias to see the depth of the story, thereby seeing its importance and undeniably catchy tunes.