“Dear Evan Hansen”: Lost in Translation

Mason Glod, Beat Reporter: Movies

Ironically, watching the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie feels like watching on the outside, always looking in.

“Dear Evan Hansen”, the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, stars Ben Platt as the awkward, anxious titular character Evan Hansen. When a letter he wrote to himself in a therapy exercise lands in a grieving family’s hands, Evan crafts an elaborate lie to achieve a life he has always wanted.

Translating a story from one medium to another always creates new challenges. When Dear Evan Hansen premiered on Broadway in 2016, the show received praise for its nuanced approach to mental health, garnering six Tony Awards. However, as social consciousness and conversation continue to evolve, especially regarding mental health, Dear Evan Hansen’s story is viewed through a new lens. Does the movie tackle nuanced themes of mental health and suicide responsibly? Is this story still necessary? Recent discourse on social media has provided mixed opinions. In retrospect, Evan’s actions in this story are often gravely irresponsible, even bordering on cruelty. Presenting these actions in a movie without the distraction of live musical numbers makes Evan’s actions seem even more heartless and irredeemable. The movie presents the story as much more dark and horrifying than the musical ever did.

Regardless of your perspective on these moral issues, the Dear Evan Hansen movie is a faithful adaptation of the famous musical. The performances are impressive, while often muted. Yes, Ben Platt is too old for the role of Evan Hansen, but it is clear that he understands the role on a deep, personal level. His performance is bold and exceptional. Other cast standouts include Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe Murphy, whose character has much more agency in the movie than on the stage, and Amandla Stenberg as Alana Beck. The music is still exceptional, with all adapted songs having the same effect (although the new song “The Anonymous Ones” lacks the impact it seems the creators intended).

Fans of the Broadway show will have no quarrels with the movie adaptation, and critics of the show will find more to critique. Overall, the movie seems to just be missing something. Whether that is a lack of memorable characters, a missing cohesiveness, or a general lack of inspiration, boldness, or heart, Dear Evan Hansen fizzles out instead of stepping into the sun.

Rating: 2.5/5

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Cast List: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Amandla Stenberg, Julianne Moore

Run Time: 137 minutes

Release Date: September 24th, 2021