Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Premise: A teenager suffering from depression and social anxiety (Ben Platt) is misconstrued as the only friend of a fellow high school student who committed suicide. Instead of telling the truth, he makes up an elaborate story of their friendship.
What Works: The cast of Dear Evan Hansen is quite good and the dramatic moments play effectively. Ben Platt is cast in the title role and he is convincing as a young man suffering from depression and anxiety. Evan’s decision to keep up and embellish the lie is credible because the character’s isolation is vivid and the opportunity for social connection becomes irresistible. The premise also works because of the portrait of the grieving family, in particular Amy Adams as the mother. She’s barely holding it together and, in the moment, telling the truth seems cruel. With the strength of these performances, it’s easy to imagine a much better version of this movie that is considerably shorter and non-musical.
What Doesn’t: Dear Evan Hansen is a musical and that is its primary downfall. The songs vacillate between mediocre and terrible. The filmmakers attempt to bring a raw edge to the musical numbers, similar to what Tom Hooper did in 2012’s Les Miserables, but it doesn’t work in this film. The music of Dear Evan Hansen often sounds like someone trying to sing while sobbing because that is in fact what the actors are required to do. It sounds awful and these songs are neither musically nor dramatically satisfying. The musical numbers are boringly staged. There’s no showmanship or musicality to the set pieces; the actors stand around and sing into the camera. The story isn’t very impressive either. This is a white lie storyline and it’s obvious where this is going but doubly so because Dear Evan Hansen is remarkably similar to 2009’s World’s Greatest Dad which did the same premise much better. The pacing is slack. Dear Evan Hansen goes on far too long especially for a story this predictable. The musical sequences just protract the story and the tired turns in the drama are not compelling. The film also makes some troubling implications. Evan makes a heartfelt speech that goes viral on social media. He becomes a minor celebrity and the film implies that fame improves his social status as well as his mental health. Equating likes and shares with self-worth is exactly the kind of thinking that leads to mental health problems. Intentional or not, the film’s implications are stupid and contrary to any useful message about mental health.
Bottom Line: Dear Evan Hansen is a lousy musical that sabotages a good cast with a cliché story, uninspired filmmaking, and mediocre songs. It’s a well-intended movie but it even fouls up the message.
Episode: #871 (September 3, 2021)