This musical is messy and manipulating and makes time for more than a few moments for major melodrama throughout its maze. And that’s how it works.
I want to start out by saying that I never saw the stage production of Dear Evan Hansen on or off or even remotely near Broadway, so my experience with the story is based purely upon the film. I will also forego the expected portion of my review where I give you a little plot summary of the film because it’s kind of a movie that’s hard to explain without giving everything away. I’ll let you be the one to look it up. Your choice.
Dear Evan Hansen is at its very best when it breaks down the stigma around talking about mental health and the insecurities we all face when there’s a problem going on inside our head.
Ben Platt is this character. The conversation that he’s too old to play this role feels unwarranted and out of touch. You’ve had to have heard this argument by now from somebody, somewhere. This character is Platt’s brainchild, so to imagine anybody else taking on this role in its long-awaited film adaptation feels strange. Accept the fact that it’s Platt’s place, and it actually works in the end.
You’ll cringe that Evan Hansen said that thing. You’ll cringe that Evan Hansen thought that was alright to do. You’ll be scared for the self-sabotage that’s undoubtedly ahead. So, I guess it is a cringeworthy film, but not in the way most people think.
Amy Adams is always just about two screws away from going completely unhinged in the most excruciating sense. She carries this character really well, putting on a facade that is at once undergoing immense pain while carrying on her put-together personality. We all knew that Amandla Stenberg was destined for stardom from the first time we saw her in The Hunger Games. She has this familiar quality that feels anything but intimidating, so everyone knows someone like her. Julianne Moore feels a little underutilized here. Her role doesn’t allow her to show off those signature Julianne Moore moves, but she does great when we do get to see her. Kaitlyn Dever serves up a performance that is right up there with how good she was in Booksmart and Unbelievable. She is really one of the most unique young actresses right now, and she brings a special sense of self to every role of hers.
There are great performances busting at the seams. Everywhere you look, there’s another star delivering a scene worthy of being in a nomination reel. But watching that for over two hours straight, you start to feel the weight of it all. The acting started feeling slightly forced, and it lost its realistic touch after a while.
As is the case with many musicals, there are some absolutely horrific singing moments, especially from Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Kaitlyn Dever. The emotion was certainly there, and they’re giving it their all, but they’re not singers. But, remember, they’re all incredible actors, so maybe we give them some wiggle room for not hitting every little note just right.
The way that Dear Evan Hansen so accurately portrays anxiety and depression is so real. When all eyes are on you, and the room goes silent. Being able to express that sensation on camera was memorable. Sometimes, it can just be a hard day. Sometimes, you just want to tell yourself that it’s going to be a great day. Sometimes, it was never going to be a good day to begin with, and that can be difficult.
I think a lot of people are getting lost in the weeds on this movie for some reason. Hear me out. This is a musical. It has one clear message — it’s okay not to be okay — and it carries that message out from start to finish. There aren’t really any aimless diversions from that theme or unexpected twists. It actually falls into some predictable predicaments sometimes. I wish there were more risks mixed in here and there, but it truly aims for the realism of it all.
I write all of that to say: expect the expected. It’s alright that this does what it does because it does it really well. As a film, it ends up falling into its own message of “it’s okay not to be okay,” because that’s what people should say at the end of this. It’s okay if you didn’t like this, and it’s okay if you did. It means well, and that’s more than can be said for a lot of projects today.
Visually, I really enjoyed the color palette of everything. It feels like what you would except from a teen coming-of-age, rom-com movie, but it’s done in a really textured way that pulls out those dark burgundies and piercing blues at the right times.
The dramatics are dialed all the way up, and it can feel overwhelming at times. That’s part of why it doesn’t work, but that’s also a big part of why it does. The melodrama of it all reinforces certain aspects of young people’s experience with anxiety and adults’ response to it.
My problems came in the second half. I needed more resolution. I needed to see a little bit more of the after effects. What are the repercussions? Are there any? Why? I had just a few too many questions for comfort that left me wondering way too much.
There were two really key lines in here that I want you to know even if you never see the movie after all: “You know, you don’t really act like a depressed sort of person.” “I’m just good at staying anonymous.” Those two lines will probably stick with me until the very end.
Let your moral judgment go for a couple of hours, embrace Evan Hansen’s character for his intentions and his shortcomings, and take in the greater message at play.
Dear Evan Hansen opens in theaters this Friday, September 24.