Dear Evan Hansen (M, 137mins) Directed by Stephen Chbosky **½
Alongside Steven Spielberg West Side Story remake and adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut album In the heightsit was one of the most anticipated musicals of the last year.
A big-screen take on the much-loved and thought-provoking coming-of-age tale that took Broadway by storm in 2016, it even secured the prestigious opening night slot of the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
So how did the six-time Tony Award-winning film adaptation of the show end up being nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies) and finally finding itself released straight to streaming and DVD services? / Blu-Ray in New Zealand?
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The short answer is that it’s not really that bad, some of the issues – like the most maligned Cats – are inherent in the DNA of the show itself – and as essential as Ben Platt was the main man in bringing Evan Hansen to life, the 27-year-old (at the time of filming) is the most inauthentic high school student since Channing Tatum’s Greg Jenko or Drew Barrymore’s Josie Geller (although you really should hold back any vitriol about such a cast until you get a chance to see the jaw-dropping documentary My old school which debuted at Sundance last month).
In a strange way, her overly advanced appearance actually contributes to the character’s estrangement from the rest of her senior class. Evan is crippled with social anxiety, medicated on a cocktail that includes Zoloft and Ativan and is pretty much left to his own devices by his single mom Heidi (Julianne Moore), as she tries to make ends meet by taking additional guards.
Falling in love with talented young musician Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever) from afar, her only “friend” at Westview High is fellow AV club member Jared (Nik Dodani) – and that’s only because their mothers are friends – so he is entering his final year.
Confidence already shaken by a broken arm sustained in a fall from a tree during his summer job, he was instructed by his therapist to write himself letters to improve his self-esteem. But, when an attempt to print one at the school library results in it falling into the hands of the volatile and troubled Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), he objects to the mention of his sister and , much to Evan’s horror, flees with it. .
Worried that this will end up online, Evan is even more worried when Connor doesn’t reappear in class in the days that follow. But then comes an unexpected call to the principal’s office and – even stranger – the news that Connor’s mother Cynthia (Amy Adams) and stepfather Larry (Danny Pino) want to meet him.
While trying to reconstruct their boy’s last moments, they had discovered Evan’s letter folded in the pocket of his jeans. Thinking it was written by Connor, they believe it’s proof of a deep friendship they didn’t know.
As they cling to that single ray of enlightenment in a dark and confusing time – whether out of self-preservation or empathy – Evan does not deny them these thoughts.
However, as they invite them into their and Zoe’s lives, Evan discovers that his lie quickly turns into a monster that, while potentially increasing his notoriety and popularity and bringing the school community together, could easily escape his control.
Previously, having successfully brought to life popular young adult literary hits like Wonder and Charlie’s world, it seems odd to see Chbosky struggle so much with tone and pitch here. Having seemingly organic but random characters bursting into song will always alienate a certain portion of your audience, but here the balance seems a little off balance and, while many of the lyrics certainly resonate, there is a similarity about them ( the haunting Requiem and the anthem you will be found are the stars) and their style, more divisive, Sondheim-esque, than modern times, appeals to Miranda.
Although Chbosky put in an excellent performance from the ever-brilliant Dever (Library, Incredible) and The hate you giveby Amandla Stenberg (in a significantly enhanced role from the series), veterans Adams and Moore’s characters seem much more monotonous, while Platt’s performance (whose “capture and immortalization” has been somewhat disturbing by the director as the main focus of the film) is best described as polarizing.
Let’s be honest, Evan’s behavior is less than gallant and quite manipulative, which doesn’t help Platt’s cause. Personally, I liked her edgy, understated performance, rather than Maddie Ziegler’s demonstrative histrionics in The music (and yes, I know their characters are on different parts of any definable “spectrum”), but he stood out as an academic oddball during a high school.
So, Dear Evan Hansen, I wanted to love you so much. I think the Razzies are too mean (as they usually do with some movies). I believe that some of your ideas and discussions are much more scholarly and worthy than several seasons of 13 reasons why Where Riverdale. But I can’t get over some of your flaws and I wonder if, à la Disney+ hamiltona filmed version of the show would have been far more fitting – and satisfying.
Dear Evan Hansen is now available for rental on Neon, iTunes, GooglePlay, YouTube, AroVision and Academy OnDemand. It is also now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.