Friday Film Review--"Dear Evan Hansen"
"Dear Evan Hansen" has made its way from the Broadway stage to the big screen this month, and is now playing in theaters.
For the past decade I've been reviewing films, I purposely avoid reading advance reviews of the movies I share on the Friday Film Review. Instead, it's my intent to watch the film without the distraction of how many stars, thumbs-up, or fresh versus rotten ratings the movie may have garnered.
Watching a film adaptation of a Broadway play can also be challenging, especially if you're remotely aware of the critical acclaim and Tony Awards the production and cast have received.
Fortunately, when I set out to see this week's film – "Dear Evan Hansen" – I went in with no background or expectations. It also marked my first trip back to the theater after an 18-month hiatus.
I didn't know much about the plot or that it was a dark musical about a lonely and depressed teen.
The film opens with Evan pouring out his feelings in a letter to himself, as advised by his therapist. It's clear he is struggling, anxious, and deeply depressed, and often alone as his single mom (played by Julianne Moore) is at work, taking on extra shifts as a nurse to make ends meet.
The opening scene segues into the movie's first song – "Waving through the Window" – performed by Tony Award winner Ben Platt reprising his role as the 17-year-old Evan.
At school, Ben reunites with his only friend Jared (played by Nick Dodani) as they size up their senior year during a school-wide assembly. Ben bashfully admits a secret crush on the cool guitar girl Zoe Murphy (played by Kaitlin Dever), who's sitting in the bleachers with her angry and outcast brother Connor (played by Colton Ryan) nearby.
Later in the day, Connor approaches Evan in the library and starts a brief conversation while Evan is waiting by the printer for a copy of his letter. Things turn tense quickly, and Connor takes off after grabbing the letter out of Evan's hands.
A few days later, after Connor hasn't shown up at school, Evan is called to the principal's office, where Connor's parents (played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino) are waiting with the letter and the news that Conner has died by suicide.
Connor's parents assume the letter was written by Connor to Evan and that the two were likely best friends. Desperate to learn more about their son, they open their home and hearts to Evan. The awkward and shy Evan finds himself in a precarious position struggling with finding the right words to explain that he was not Connor's best friend and placating Connor's family with fabricated stories of an imagined friendship. Spiraling into the narrative of the latter, Evan is now past the point of no return.
As word of Connor's passing and their unlikely friendship spreads throughout the school, Evan is thrust into a series of remembrances, memorials, and a legacy project to honor Connor.
As the deception continues, Evan and Zoe grow closer, and his ties to Connor's parents go deeper. At this point in the film, we begin to question Evan's motive and wonder if he takes advantage of Connor's memory.
Critics have panned the film for the odd casting of Platt - now 27 - as Evan, the glorification of Evan's behavior, and the heavy narrative. While I avoided the bad reviews until after watching the movie, I also struggled with the film's theme. I often felt uncomfortable sitting through musical numbers punctuating such a dark story.
Directed by Steven Chbosky (who also helmed "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"), "Dear Evan Hansen" runs a long 2 hours and 17 minutes and is rated PG-13 for strong language and thematic material.