Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Dear Evan Hansen

Title: Dear Evan Hansen

Describe This Movie Using One Heathers Quote:
VERONICA: Suicide gave Heather depth, Kurt a soul, and Ram a brain.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Oh what a tangled web we weave, amirite?

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 "Milpools" out of 5.
Tagline: "An honest and original story for the outsider in all of us."

Better Tagline: "Hey, how can we make adolescence suck even more?"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: High school senior Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) writes letters to himself to better cope with his social anxiety. One of these letters finds its way into the hands of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a troubled fellow student who subsequently kills himself. Connor's parents mistake Evan's letter for their son's, leading to an escalating series of misunderstandings that Evan finds himself powerless to stop.
"Critical" Analysis: ”I’m glad you’re here.”

It’s a seemingly throwaway line by the mother of doomed Connor Murphy, played by Amy Adams, but it gets to the heart of what Dear Evan Hansen is (often) clumsily trying to say. There's plenty to criticize about this adaptation of the Tony-winning musical, but at least the movie attempts to promote a message in spite of its lead character's overt obnoxiousness.

Speaking of criticism: the Broadway version won acclaim and awards, it's true, but the film's earnestness too easily teeters into the maudlin. And then there's Platt himself. How much you enjoy Dear Evan Hansen will likely hinge on whether you empathize with the painfully awkward — to the point of excruciating — teen, or if find his actions reprehensible.

Oh yeah, and he was 27 when they filmed this.

Now, it isn't like Dear Evan Hansen is the first offender when it comes to casting grown-ass adults as teenagers. Grease famously included a 30-year old Olivia Newton-John and 33-year old Stockard Channing (John Travolta was a mere 24), while half the cast of Beverly Hills, 90210 were well into their 20s at that show's outset.

[Frankly, the obvious solution would've been to repurpose this as a Hiding Out remake, with Platt reprising the Jon Cryer role as an adult masquerading among teenagers.]

But there are other problems. Part of what made the Broadway version so memorable was the staging and set design, which cleverly captured both the intimate interiors and global reach of social media. It's less impressive here, and the ubiquity of Evan's online transgressions are only fleetingly touched upon.

Admittedly, most lies don’t snowball into community-wide delusion. And maybe the most realistic thing here is the lack of lasting repercussions. Virality by definition means these online shitstorms burn out almost as quickly as they arise. Accordingly, we can be expected to forgive some level of bullshit (though most right-thinking societies would draw the line at almost boning the sister of your dead fake best friend).

Plenty (too much, really) has been said about Platt's unconvincing turn as a teenager. At least he's surrounded himself with a capable cast, including Kaitlyn Devers (as the aforementioned sister, Zoe), Amandla Stenberg (as Alana, in a role beefed up for the film), and Julianne Moore (as Evan's mother Heidi). They can't dispel the movie's overall mawkishness single-handedly, but they try.

Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) shows he has a handle on some aspects of the adolescent experience. The way high schoolers handle grief, for example (e.g. the rush to associate with the deceased), or the mostly deadpan attitude toward mental illness. And the movie raises some intriguing questions — like, is a dishonest act forgivable if it brings happiness to others? — but doesn't spend any real time on them.

If you can ignore the movie-of-the-week framing, protracted run-time (137 minutes), and endless cavalcade of waterworks, this might be for you. If nothing else, Dear Evan Hansen wants you to be glad you're here, even if you're hurting.

Dear Evan Hansen is in theaters today.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar