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2021 has become the year of the movie musicals, with a variety of beloved stage productions being adapted for the screen. Dear Evan Hansen is the latest of these projects, helmed by Perks of Being A Wallflower’s Stephen Chbosky. Tony Award winning star Ben Platt is back as the title character, and truly manages to shine in this emotionally exhausting drama.
Dear Evan Hansen became a hit Broadway musical when it debuted back in 2016. Ben Platt had already been in movies like Pitch Perfect, but his ability to weep and sing through such an emotional story was a star-making moment that led to way more TV and film roles. Luckily for those of us who were unable to see his run in New York, that performance has now been immortalized through this film adaptation.
The story of Dear Evan Hansen is a dark one, with mental health and sucide at the center of the narrative. The isolated Evan has a chance encounter with Conner Murphy (Colton Ryan) shortly before his suicide, and a misunderstanding endears him to a mourning family. This includes his crush Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) and her parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino). It’s a story about connection, lies, and mourning that makes for an emotional moviegoing experience. Luckily filmmaker Stephen Chbosky is experienced with telling authentic teenage stories.
This difficult material is buoyed by the music of Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, who became household names thanks to their work on The Greatest Showman and La La Land. Every musical number helps to raise the stakes, especially when Ben Platt is given the time to embody Evan Hansen’s social anxiety and longing for acceptance. Acceptance is ultimately a theme of the movie, although we’ll have to sit with Evan’s lies and the discomfort that causes throughout most of the movie’s runtime.
Ben Platt Gives The Same Heart And Commitment That Won Him A Tony For Dear Evan Hansen
As previously mentioned, Ben Platt won a Tony Award for originating the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. His return to the role years later was the cause of some backlash by naysayers, although the film performance doesn’t falter. Platt sounds killer singing those beloved songs, and also gets more stillness and time with the character this time around.
Dear Evan Hansen opens with the show’s biggest anthem, “Waving Through the Window,” which allows the audience to see his invisible Evan feels. This is invaluable to the audience’s experience of the story, which is one where Ben Platt’s character lies time and time again to a mourning family. His own anxiety and isolation makes the situation easier to digest, but the part of Evan needs to be played perfectly in order for the audience to be on his side.
Despite the various cards that may be stacked against him, Ben Platt's triumphant return as Evan is an emotional tour-de-force that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Fans will be able to see every micro expression in the actor’s face, which helps us to be immersed in the title character’s journey. And while the material of Dear Evan Hansen is super heavy, Platt time time again dodges opportunities for melodrama.
Supporting Cast Members Like Julianne Moore Are Underused
Of course, Ben Platt isn’t the only familiar name bringing the story of Dear Evan Hansen to life in Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation. Platt is the only original actor in the cast, allowing for icons like Julianne Moore and Amy Adams to play the roles of Heidi Hansen and Cynthia Murphy. The movie also got a ton of attention for casting Last Man Standing’s Kaitlyn Dever as Evan’s love interest Zoe. In the end, the movie is a deeply emotional experience filled with stunning performances, although some cast members like Moore do end up being underused.
As is the case with every film adaptation of a Broadway musical, certain songs from Dear Evan Hansen were cut in order to condense the narrative into its 137-minute runtime. While this helps to streamline the story, it also leaves supporting characters like Evan’s mother Heidi without as much screen time. Julianne Moore sings and acts the hell out of the ballad “So Close, So Small”, but unfortunately her other two big songs were cut out of the film adaptation. But unsurprisingly Moore is able to make the most out of every scene and brings a quiet sincerity to the film.
Amy Adams’ role is also smaller as a result of these cuts, although Enchanted fans will be thrilled to hear her singing alongside Kaitlyn Dever and Danny Pino in “Requiem.” But given the pedigree attached to Dear Evan Hansen’s cast, the film does ultimately leave one wanting more from those talented names. For her part Dever gives a solid performance as Zoe, and is able to duet with the likes of Ben Platt.
The Dear Evan Hansen Movie Improves On The Original With Inclusion And Closure
While there are notable cuts in Dear Evan Hansen, there are ways that the movie adaptation improves on the narrative. For one, more inclusion and diversity is brought to the starring cast of actors. Evan’s friend Jared (Nik Dodani) is queer in this adaptation, while the Murphys are a mixed family featuring Cuban American actor Danny Pino as Larry. Additionally, the role of supporting character Alana is expanded, with actress Amandla Beck getting a new song in the process.
But perhaps the best change in Dear Evan Hansen comes from the movie’s ending. While the show’s conclusion is a bit vague, audiences will be given appropriate closure by the time the credits roll. That being said, it’s an emotionally grueling process to get through to the end, so pack your tissues.
Dear Evan Hansen is a solid movie musical with some gorgeous performances. While the story might have suffered a bit in its journey to the screen, it’s ultimately a moving piece that asks some tough, contemporary questions. Now we’ll just have to see if “You Will Be Found” heading back to theaters to see it all shake out on the big screen.