One of the burdens of reviewing is matching up the quality of the film versus the public appreciation; some films deserve a huge audience, others get it despite being lousy. If I were to base my opinion on the advance word from the US, I wouldn’t even have looked at Dear Evan Hansen, which has been pretty much kicked from pillar to post by American critics. And yet, this is a hit Broadway show adapted for cinema, and the songwriters were responsible for two hugely popular movies in La La Land and The Greatest Showman, so with some trepidation, Dear Evan Hansen gets a shot in the spotlight.
Part of the problem here is the trailer’s coyness about what Stephen Chbosky’s film is about. The subject is a daring one for a musical; teenage suicide. Awkward Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) feels like a loser, and mopes about his high school in a dwam of teenage angst. Getting bullied by Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) is one of the few interactions in Evan’s life; Connor thoughtlessly steals a letter Evan has written to himself in the school library. Later, Connor’s mother (Amy Adams) discovers the letter, titled Dear Evan Hansen, on the body of her dead son, and misunderstands it to be evidence of a close friendship between the boys. Evan Hansen suddenly gains the popularity that he once craved, but the good times come with a hefty price tag as his unwitting deception has a limited shelf-life.
Although the songs are good, this really isn’t in the mould of a classic musical in the way that The Greatest Showman was; it’s a far more gritty and uneasy proposition that hinges on a young man’s desire for peer acceptance at any cost. Platt developed the role on Broadway, and although a little old for the part, fills it nicely, with support from Adams and Julianne Moore as Evan’s hard-scrabble mother that helps seal the deal. Critics seems to have felt the Broadway production worked better, but for those of us without theatrical access, there’s really not much wrong with this witty, heartfelt story, which tackles the relevant subject of social media and how it affects teenagers. Evan’s problems are manifested in an airbrushed social media story which doesn’t accurately represent real events, and which twists to comfort and then disturb his delicate psyche.
Catching the wrong end of the inclement pandemic box-office waves, Dear Evan Hansen didn’t pull the kind of crowds it did on Broadway, and yet it’s one of the year’s more creative films, delving into tricky areas, but managing to pull off a difficult trick in making a moving, sensitive film that still deals with stark issues. Give it a few years and this should be a cult movie; with consistently good songs and a unique aesthetic, it’s a secret success that may take years to be recognised; much like Hansen himself, it’s a potential late developer that maybe needs more time and patience than first impressions suggest.
film-authority.com adds; It’s Black Friday, and Seat Plan have been in touch with an offer for those keen to see the original stage-show in London. Seats right in the centre of the Stalls are available for £75, which is almost £50 cheaper than the Box Office – and there are other savings across the auditorium until 1 December, including £50 tickets at the front of the Stalls. Link below!