Recounting a high school student’s path to becoming a pathological liar after a classmate’s suicide, “Dear Evan Hansen” tackles a myraid of challenging mental health-related topics, for the most part, unsucessfully.
“Dear Evan Hansen” comes across as a movie about anxiety written by someone who has heard about but never actually experienced anxiety. Social anxiety seems to be Evan’s only character trait, and he is a human representation of anxiety rather than a person who struggles with it. Evan says things out loud that no anxious person would consider vocalizing, almost as if the writers didn’t trust the actors to convey the emotions so they wrote the script to narrate the characters’ feelings.
While the musical prides itself on spreading the message, “you will be found,” its storyline does not express this sentiment. After Evan falls out of a tree, no one comes to find him, so he writes “You Will Be Found” as a fantasy of sorts. The school rallies behind him and joins in his song, but where were each of these people when Evan and Connor needed to be found? The film cannot manage to put its money where its mouth is, even in regards to its primary message.
Similarly, the film removed any shred of accountability for Evan’s countless lies by excluding the song “Good For You,” a number which, on Broadway, allowed his mother and friends to call him out on his deception. He never truly receives any sort of serious penalty for his actions, seemingly implying that his actions were not that bad.
The film’s greatest draw also proved its greatest flaw: 27-year-old Ben Platt’s reprisal of the titular role. As a 17-year-old who struggles with anxiety, I am the first to admit that “Waving Through a Window,” the film’s opening song, has always resonated with me. However, I found it difficult to empathize with a much older character who is singing about how he feels out of place in high school, when, in fact, he is out of place in the film.
Platt’s age also proves problematic as Zoe, Evan’s love interest played by Kaitlyn Dever, portrays a believable high schooler. The whole relationship feels uncomfortable due to this age gap. Their lack of chemistry in the duet, “Only Us,” feels stale and forced from an audience perspective.
Despite the awkwardness of this relationship, Dever truly delivers a strong performance. Dever, Amy Adams and Danny Pino conveyed different aspects of denial and grief skillfully as the Murphy family. Julianne Moore brings great emotion to the story as Heidi, Evan’s mother. I believe the greatest standout performance, however, is Colton Ryan as Connor Murphy. Ryan brought a much needed dose of comedic relief in “Sincerely Me” and committed to making Connor a deep, well-rounded character, despite his little screen time.
The script has its humorous moments but, overall, comes across as a misguided mental health awareness campaign.