Stephen Chbosky’s Dear Evan Hansen is a film adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award winning musical of the same name. And it features the original Broadway lead actor in the pivotal role.
Teenager Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) struggles with anxiety and depression, and is seeing a therapist. He is being brought up by his single mother, Heidi (Julianne Moore), who loves him dearly but is seemingly forever working as a nurse. He is friendless and awkward at school. The therapist (who we never see) asks Evan to write letters to himself about why he should look forward to each day. He struggles with that. After a particularly bad day, he turns the tables on the positives and writes himself an honest few paragraphs. Unfortunately, his words end up in the hands of a troubled student Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) who goes on to commit suicide.
Connor’s mother Cynthia (Amy Adams) and stepfather Larry Mora (Danny Pino) come across Evan’s letter, which starts with the words: “Dear Evan Hansen”. Naturally, they think Connor wrote it and poured his heart out to a friend they never knew he had … namely Evan Hansen. Evan can’t bring himself to tell them the truth as an inconsolable Cynthia is desperate to learn more from Evan about his relationship with her son. In reality, the only couple of interactions they had were negative, but Evan doesn’t want to let Cynthia down. For some time, Evan has also been interested in Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), who thinks her brother was a bad guy, so – in short – Evan makes stuff up. His lie grows and before long Evan is warmly embraced by Cynthia, Larry and Zoe.
Through a well-meaning activist student in Alana Beck (Amandla Stenberg), the school embraces Connor’s legacy, with Evan on board. The question is will this house of cards come tumbling down and, if so, what then?
Dear Evan Hansen is propelled by its musical numbers as much as it is by the spoken narrative. In fact, that works very well. The songs are powerful and affecting. The premise is set up as a heartfelt conundrum.
Ben Platt (The Politician) has a superb singing voice, which is well suited to the part. He adroitly navigates the role of Evan, notwithstanding the fact that he looks too old to be a high schooler. Around him, the other leads are also polished. I particularly appreciated Amy Adams as a mother wrestling with her grief.
Without too much effort you can readily pick holes in the story arc and the melodrama ratchets up a bit too much at times. Still, the intent of dealing reasonably with mental illness in there for all to see.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.