Often when I talk to people about my passion for musicals they tell me the reason they don’t share that passion is because they find musicals old-fashioned and non-relatable. When they use that excuse to me in the future my response is going to be “have you seen Dear Evan Hansen?”
If you want something modern and relatable then look no further than Dear Evan Hansen. Set in a modern day High School the film follows Evan Hansen (Ben Platt – Pitch Perfect) a student who is battling severe mental illness to the point where he struggles to even talk to other people, let alone trying to make friends and settle into a regular High School routine.
Instead Evan spends most of his days trying to avoid social interactions while watching his crush, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever – Booksmart) from afar. However things take a big turn when Zoe’s brother, Connor (Colton Ryan – Uncle Frank) commits suicide. His grieving parents, Larry (Danny Pino – Cold Case) and Cynthia (Amy Adams – Arrival), find a letter on his body addressed to Evan, but as they start grilling him for information about their son Evan finds that he is unable to tell them the truth – that the letter was one of his ‘therapy’ letters that he wrote himself that Connor stole from him.
I think the thing that impressed me so much about Dear Evan Hansen is that while it sticks true to its musical roots it has a deep story that takes the audience into an event where it is obvious that there is not going to be a winner. I think many will see that the film is in the musical genre and just assume that it is going to be light and fluffy – that certainly isn’t the case and in no way can this film ever be accused of making light serious subjects such as suicide and mental illness.
Based on a Tony Award-winning stage show Dear Evan Hansen is a film that engrosses its audience in a way that will divide people. From my point of view I could see why Evan chose the path that he chose after the letter was discovered. I knew that it would it was murky path filled with danger for him but I understood it. But I can also see why others watching this film will almost hate Evan for what he does… I mean basically let’s face it he is blatantly lying and catfishing a dead teenager’s family.
Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks Of Being A Wallflower) and screenwriter Steven Levenson (Fosse/Verdon) don’t try to protect Evan as a character. I’m sure at some point in the production of this film someone would have pointed out that the character and his actions might be viewed is apprehensible and perhaps something should be done to make him a ‘hero.’ That doesn’t happen though and in my view that makes this film so much powerful. To me one of the most powerful things about this film is the fact that as an audience you find yourself watching on being filled with suspense as you just know that the truth is going to be revealed at some time.
Musically the film also works. People have asked me to describe this film to them and I say it is pretty much Glee meets 13 Reasons Why. I thought I may struggle with the idea of people going through some of the darkest days of their lives and breaking out into song, but I didn’t. The songs match the film perfectly and if you stop and listen to the lyrics of tracks like Waving Through A Window and For Forever they only further enhance the emotions and feelings that the various characters are going through. In fact they become a valuable tool for the filmmaker to use to allow characters to reveal their inner thoughts to the audience.
Of course one of the biggest criticisms that has surfaced from people before they have even seen the film is the fact that 28-year-old Ben Platt plays a teenager here. I would be lying at times if it didn’t stand out at times throughout the film. At times it does look like there is a man-child attending a high school but Platt is so good in the role that you soon forget about it. The stars who steal the show here are Kaitlyn Dever and Amy Adams who are brilliant playing characters going through an extremely emotional event. I have said since first seeing Dever in Justfied that she is going to be a star and her performance here just further enhances my views on that.
I found Dear Evan Hansen to be a strong and deeply meaningful film that explores some dark issues while taking its audience on an emotional journey. Sure the character of Evan and his action will divide audiences but isn’t that part of what cinema is meant to do – create discussions amongst its audience once the final credits have rolled? Dear Evan Hansen might not be quite as powerful as Writing On Bathroom Walls but it is still an insightful and realistic look at what it is like for somebody to live with mental illness.