Ever since the movie adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen came out, critics and fans alike have been tearing it apart.
The movie is based on the massively successful Broadway musical of the same name.
It tells the story of Evan, an anxiety-ridden teen who writes a letter to himself as a therapy exercise. Connor Murphy, a troubled classmate, finds the letter and freaks out because it mentions his sister Zoe (who Evan’s in love with). So he pockets the letter and runs off.
A few days later, Connor takes his own life. His family finds the letter Evan wrote to himself in Connor’s pocket, and they assume it’s his suicide note. Seeing that his note was addressed to Evan, they believe the two were friends.
Evan tries to tell the truth but ends up maintaining the lie to try to make the family feel better instead. But the lie keeps growing and growing, making Evan more popular in school and leading to him basically becoming the Murphy family’s new son.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Now, you’ve probably seen memes online about how old Ben Platt looks in the titular role.
And while I don’t think you should make fun of celebrities for their age, I do think that a large percentage of this movie-musical’s problems stem from the fact that Ben Platt just doesn’t look like a high-schooler.
Platt played Evan in the Broadway version, and he was phenomenal. I’m saying all of these things about Ben Platt as a massive fan of him. I literally have a Dear Evan Hansen tattoo!
However, the whole plot relies on Evan being a naive, anxious teen. After all, it’s more believable seeing a 17-year-old try to tell the truth, get talked over, and then decide to maintain the lie. You can understand how a kid could not realize how lying will hurt the family in the long run.
Seeing a 27-year-old man lie and weasel his way into a grieving family is way less understandable.
The other issue is that the movie tries to make Evan out to be the good guy when, in reality, he isn’t.
Yes, Evan is anxious and naive. But he still manipulated a family’s grief for his own gain. He’s a sympathetic villain, but still a villain.
The Broadway musical allows characters to be angrier at Evan, which the movie glosses over. The movie’s biggest sin is cutting out the song “Good For You,” in which Evan’s mom and friends get angry at Evan for his self-serving actions.
At this point in the movie and stage musical, Evan is constantly at the Murphys’ house and even begins dating Zoe. He’s ignoring his single mom and the mental health organization he started with his friends in Connor’s memory.
The anger in “Good For You” is a big part of what drives Evan to confess that he lied to the Murphys. The movie replaces this with a brief, unresolved fight with his mom and an argument with his friend Alana. The fight with Alana was inexplicably staged in a library, so they’re whispering the whole thing!
The movie also cut the musical’s opening number, “Anybody Have a Map?”, which follows Evan and Connor’s mothers as they wonder how to parent troubled teens properly.
Cutting these songs removes a lot of outside perspectives, making it all about Evan.
I think this does a great disservice to how morally gray the original musical is. The movie tries to give Evan a short redemption arc to learn more about Connor, but it falls flat. I would much rather have seen the other characters get angry at him the way they do in the musical.
Yes, when he confesses that he lied, he’s ostracized in school. But it’s shown in one scene where the students glare at him in the cafeteria. That’s it. It doesn’t feel like a fitting punishment for what he did.
In the musical, you get more of a sense of him losing everything, then putting the pieces back together as he learns not to hate himself.
This combo of Evan not looking like a naive teenager and not having anyone get truly angry at him in the whole musical is what made this movie a flop for me.
You can’t show a 27-year-old man manipulate a family’s grief and then redeem him in a few minutes, no matter how well Ben Platt can sing and act.
Considering how much I love the musical, I really wanted the movie to work. And there are plenty of good things, like the acting performances and added songs.
But these two glaring issues have turned it into a movie I won’t be able to watch again.
What did you think of Dear Evan Hansen? Let us know in the comments!
Feature Image/video via Universal Pictures YouTube