Thursday, October 21, 2021

In the Reels: ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ return to sender

Cameron Kaercher

As Lin-Manuel Miranda is rightly cashing in on his global sensation, “Hamilton,” the cinematic adaptation of his first Broadway success, “In the Heights” was released in June of this year. The film is warm, loving and filled with life. It is a celebration of the Washington Heights culture that gets accented by exciting choreography. It is everything that a movie musical can do, and it is one of the better mainstream movies of this year.

The latest cinematic adaptation of a broadway hit is “Dear Evan Hansen.”

“Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of a socially anxious high school senior, played by Ben Platt. Evan sees a therapist who recommends he write himself a letter to verbalize his anxieties. After the letter is printed out at school, it gets into the hands of Connor Murphy, played by Colton Ryan. Unbeknownst to everyone around, Connor is also struggling with his mental health and after committing suicide, while still in the position of Evan’s letter, people start to believe the both of them were closer than they actually were.

The best place to start is with the star. Son of the producer of the Broadway production and the film adaptation, Marc Platt, Ben became a star thanks to “Dear Evan Hansen.” The show gave him the platform to win the Tony for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2017, and he was the youngest person to do so at the time. The Washington Post’s theater critic, Peter Marks, wrote of Platt’s performance in 2016, “one of those portrayals that have you laughing, and at other times choking back tears, in sheer wonderment.” There is an evident difference between a 23-year-old and a 27-year old playing a high schooler. 

What Platt accomplished four years ago could not be repeated here. The camera is far too close to let him hide behind stage presence. The massive image of Ben Platt airbrushed into almost oblivion, sporting a curly wig that would be more appropriate for a sitcom flashback, is laughable. It is an almost impossible barrier to overcome, and the film never once makes itself believable.

The rest of the cast tries their best to offset the overacting on Platt’s part. Evan’s mother, played by Julianne Moore, is strung out while trying to provide for her son. She is rightfully hurt when he starts to push her away as he tries to grow closer to Connor’s family. The character of Heidi Hansen is the most empathetic character in the story. It is a shame that her character in the movie is less present than she is in the stage production. For more differences between the movie and musical, Ashley Lee’s column in the Los Angeles Times goes into more detail than this review.

“Dear Evan Hansen” has the potential to be an allegory for the parasitic relationship we have with internet fame, and how we process grief, but in the end, it’s just a story about “being true” to yourself. All that said, the film does feel like it believes in itself. It is less of a cash grab, and more of a misguided work.

Maybe there is some good to come from this film. A big-budget movie that addresses mental illness without stigma can reach the person who needs to hear that it is OK to struggle. Plenty of people may find the film pandering, but one can hope this at least makes some kind of difference.

 

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