“a glass case of emotion”
DEAR EVAN HANSEN (2021)
Let me preface this by saying that beyond the trailer for the feature film, I had not an inkling of what Dear Evan Hansen was about beyond the image of a man (possibly kid) with a cast on his arm. That’s all I had to go off of. Now seeing the film, I completely understand and validate the controversy that surrounds this award winning musical, however on a personal level, I truly loved the performances and the music inside, albeit the motivations of our lead, Evan Hansen, truly makes it difficult to root for him to succeed in his lie.
Stephen Chbosky is currently one of my favorite directors working today, with his previous work being some of the best young adult coming of age stories ever brought to the big screen: Perks of Being a Wallflower and Wonder. However, even for my love of the director’s previous work, I can completely see where this would fall in his filmography; being his second time working on a musical (screenwriter for the 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast), his work here certainly doesn’t “wow” in its choices to represent the beautiful music built within. More often than not the story plays out like a typical drama with musical elements sprinkled throughout – however it doesn’t always feel cohesive.
Not knowing anything about Dear Evan Hansen is the best way to see Dear Evan Hansen. If you have the opportunity to go into this story blind, the better you’ll be for it and the harder the gut punches will hit you whether it be feeling for Evan or despising him for his disingenuous actions. I would never go out of my way to say that what the titular character did was “right” in any way, however you can still feel for the character and hope that the lesson learned from it is worthy of continuing past it. Going in blind, you will be shoved into, as Ron Burgundy would say, “a glass case of emotion” as you struggle to feel strongly one way or the other the entire way through the film experience.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the acting throughout, whether minor or massive, is phenomenal (with a few exceptions). Straight from the original run of stage production, Ben Platt returns to deliver an emotional performance that to be entirely honest was rightfully cast. Yes he does look a little older than the other high school students, but once the film gets going you’ll forget entirely because if you broke down the entire high school cast, I would bet you anything that it was made up of an unrecognizable mix of teenagers and 20-somethings (Ben Platt being 28 and his love interest Kaitlyn Dever being 24). Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Danny Pino deliver admirable performances alongside our leads. If I were to criticize anything with the acting it’d be with some of the side characters – namely Amandla Stenberg’s Alana who more often than not drags the story down every time she’s on screen, whether it be through her singing or dialogue. It’s difficult to root for someone that takes advantage of a suicide, whether purposefully or not, and that’s where rooting for a character like Evan to succeed becomes woeful.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The film keeps everything relatively simple with its setting – a high school, the Murphy’s home, Evan’s home, and the forest in which his broken arm occurred. Everything is typical high school and feels straight out of the stage play; it’s not about the overall locations, but the actions that take place within these mundane locals.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
What can I say? Written and composed by the people behind the catchy tunes of La La Land and The Greatest Showman, the music within Dear Evan Hansen is absolutely terrific and tackles the emotion. By the time the film ends, you’ll be “tap tap tapping on the glass” all day. For such a depressing story with light optimism the music is unbelievably catchy and is worthy of the praise it’s received over the years. Composers Benjamin Pasek, Justin Paul, and Dan Romer deliver a stellar score that at times exceeds the film experience itself.
Dear Evan Hansen will certainly not be for everyone and everyone will leave the film with a different opinion of whether or not to forgive Evan for some of his choices. With a runtime of nearly 2 hr and 20 minutes, the film does suffer from an occasional drag in its story – usually with the addition of time spent with side characters that aren’t the Murphy family or Evan’s absent mother. In all honesty, the songs and Ben Platt’s performance will stay with you; the story and film itself might drift from your memory in a couple of days.