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‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ You’ve Been Way Too Out of Touch

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Another film adaptation of a hit Broadway musical made its way to the big screen on Sept. 24.  Though it’s no “Cats,” it hasn’t received the same glowing reviews as the original onstage musical. 

“Dear Evan Hansen,” directed by Stephen Chbosky, follows the story of teenager Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) dealing with social anxiety as he tries to fit in with others at his high school. In attempts to overcome this struggle, his therapist assigns him to write letters to himself which encourage him to be positive everyday. When school outcast Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) finds one of Evan’s letters, he becomes enraged that it mentions his sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) and steals it in a fit of anger. Connor decides to kill himself that same day and is found dead with the letter still in his pocket, leading his family to assume that the letter addressed to Evan was written by Connor himself. Despite Evan’s initial efforts to tell the truth, the Murphy parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino), distraught and in denial, refuse to believe what he says. This leads to Evan escalating the lies until there is no going back. 

Though “Dear Evan Hansen” has won six Tonys, including Best Musical when it made its debut on Broadway, the show has received a number of criticisms — especially regarding how the protagonist could actually be seen as the villain of his own story. The web of deceit Evan weaves for Connor’s grieving family has left many audience members confused about who to root for. In the musical, it seems that Evan leaves the situation scot-free, never facing any consequences of his lies. However, the film takes that unsatisfying ending into account and attempts to resolve that controversial conclusion. 

One notable difference between the original musical and the movie adaptation is a lack of the comic relief, which was featured in the Broadway show. Certain film lines taken word for word from the stage show were delivered in different ways in the film, which created a dull tone in contrast to the humorous moments that fans of the original musical would have expected to see.

Photo provided by IMBd.com 

A disappointing musical number in the film was “You Will Be Found,” sung by Evan as he gives a speech at a school assembly commemorating Connor. Since the performance is limited to the space of the stage on Broadway, screens were heavily utilized to emphasize the impact that Evan made with his speech. The screens showed how his speech was shared through social media and went viral with other teenagers relating to his words. In the film, a nearly identical method was used in an unfortunate PowerPoint aesthetic. “You Will Be Found” is a very pivotal and emotional song in the musical, and it was extremely disheartening to see that the director didn’t employ more clever tactics than a bunch of little videos coming together to make one big photo of Connor.

The character Alana (Amandla Stenberg) also undergoes a change in the movie adaptation as she is given more depth and understanding than the original character. While she was meant to be a strictly studious and comical character onstage, Stenberg’s strong performance sheds new light on the character as we learn more of her story and her personal struggles. She also performs an original song for the film called “The Anonymous Ones,” which is a great addition to the soundtrack as it highlights the feelings of another character who deals with similar issues as Evan, but handles them in a very different way. The characters of Evan and Alana parallel each other and demonstrate how anyone can be suffering from mental illnesses, even when it may not be obvious on the outside. 

Adams gives one of the strongest performances with her very sad yet comforting portrayal of a mourning mother. Casting her as Connor’s mother was definitely the right decision; though, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Evan’s mother, Heidi Hansen (Julianne Moore). While it may just be because Moore isn’t the strongest singer, her poor performance could also be attributed to the scene between her and Evan as she sings “So Big / So Small.” While this was meant to be a very touching and tear-jerking moment, the direction of the scene feels awkward and misplaced. Chbosky could have made the scene more multi-dimensional with flashbacks or movement around the house; however, having the two sitting next to each other on the couch with Moore singing to Platt for five minutes or so merely seems prolonged and uncomfortable.

Another notable performance is Dever as Zoe, especially in the musical number “Requiem.” She captured a lot of emotion that made the audience engage with her story and her feelings. Her unique and complicated relationship with her brother’s death leaves the viewer just as conflicted as Zoe as to what she should be feeling. Dever was a great fit for this role and truly embraced those clashing emotions in a very meaningful way.

Photo provided by IMBd.com 

Leading up to the movie adaptation, there was a whirlwind of both excitement and nervousness for Platt, 28, to play the high school senior Evan. While his acting was great and his singing was phenomenal — per usual — an audience member can easily be drifted from the plot as the camera focuses on close shots of Platt, exposing his true age. With infamous predecessors of actors who are double the age of the teenager they are meant to play, Chbosky perhaps figured there would be no difference between Platt’s role and other actors who get away with their true age on teen shows like “Riverdale” or “13 Reasons Why.” However, with the obvious makeup and perm that was given to Platt in order to make him look younger, he ended up looking like the youngest SNL actor able to play a teenager for a sketch. Platt will always be the best actor to have played the titular role of “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway; however, it is unfortunate that the film wasn’t made just a few years ago when Platt could’ve passed as his 17-year-old character. 

Overall, the film’s exceptional acting and singing performances exceeded the expectations of TikTok critics. However, it unfortunately did not meet the expectations of Broadway buffs who were expecting the musical to expand its story once it had the cinematic freedoms of a movie format. 


Chloe Geschwind is a Entertainment Staff Writer for the fall quarter 2021. She can be reached at cgeschwi@uci.edu.