“Dear Evan Hansen” left me very conflicted after leaving the theater last night — with a feeling I couldn’t quite get a handle on until well after I got home.
For a movie trying so desperately to tug at the heartstrings of its audience, it just … couldn’t quite get the job done.
The film centers on Evan Hansen’s (Ben Platt) plot to manufacture a friendship between himself and Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a student that had taken his own life. Hansen, who suffers greatly from anxiety and depression, is unable to tell the truth — that he and Connor never knew each other — and the lie becomes the foundation upon which a mental health advocacy group is built.
There are plenty of reasons the musical fell flat, but one that very clearly stands out is Platt, the man responsible for portraying the film’s protagonist.
Despite him winning a Tony for his rendition of Evan Hansen on the Broadway cast for the play five years ago, when a then 22-year-old Platt could more convincingly play the role of a high school student. Now, at age 27, casting him as a child just seems wrong, as he very clearly looks older than the rest of his fellow classmates and, notably, his love interest, Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever).
Though Platt’s performance was convincing otherwise and his voice is great — though, personally, I think it sounds a bit like it’s being run through a car wash. However, it was the frequency with which he sang that presented an issue:
The singing made the movie worse.
This thought first came up after the 30-minute mark, but it really asserted itself towards the latter half of the film. It seemed as though the singing was taking away from the emotional momentum that the performances were building up.
At Connor’s memorial, for example, Evan stumbles and falls on the stage, prompting laughter and ridicule from the student body in attendance. Yet, he makes eye contact with Connors’ mother, Cynthia Murphy (Amy Adams), which inspires him to deliver heartfelt remarks in the form of one of the film’s signature numbers, “You Will Be Found.”
Unfortunately, the song is aggressively corny, sounding more like the fight song at a local charity rally than the product of a musical that won six Tonys for its run on Broadway. Even worse is its visual accompaniment, a montage of Hansen’s speech being shared on social media. The montage concluded with the entire audience, myself included, visibly cringing when the fabricated social media videos were put together to make a collage of the deceased Connor’s face.
The relentlessly poppy, positive singing deflated the sincerity of the moment, rendering it far less emotionally impactful than perhaps intended. It was amateurish.
The same could be said of the unnecessary reprises of songs that had been sung earlier in the musical. Instead of being subtle reminders of how characters feel about what’s happening, characters abruptly break into a song we heard mere minutes ago in what appears to be an attempt from a desperate director to make sure the audience is still following along. They’re completely unnecessary, taking viewers’ focus away from what’s happening and instead directing it … well, anywhere else.
It must be said that there are a few wonderful performances hidden in the parade of cookie-cutter ballads and superficial mental health discourse that seems as though its only purpose is to drive the plot.
Julianne Moore, who plays Evan's mother Heidi Hansen, and Adams are both fantastic, as usual.
Moore, especially, delivers a powerhouse performance. Her consolation of Evan when he confesses that he never knew Connor is one of the most emotional moments I’ve seen in a movie this year, which is why I was so disappointed that it was interrupted by a musical number of her own. It was jarring and unnecessary, especially given the otherworldly combination of love and conviction with which she was already speaking to her son.
For one brief moment, Moore nearly forced the tears out of me. The music just didn’t let her get there.
Dever does well as Zoe, as does Nik Dodani as Evan’s “family friend” Jared Kalwani. However, both of their performances are lost in the sea of rough performances by the remainder of the high school class. (Extras aren’t supposed to stand out — especially not for being awful.)
Technically, the movie left a lot to be desired.
The directing was chaotic and really messy. The camera never stopped moving, whether it be to pan to another end of the room, move around a character’s face during a number or to just move for movement’s sake. Also jarring was the need the editors felt to keep cutting back and forth between each character that was singing, as though they thought we would forget which voice belonged to which actor.
The sound mixing was spotty at times — which, for a musical, is particularly frustrating. Sometimes harmonies were lost, melding together into a not-so-pleasant sounding mix. There was even a time near the end of the movie where the sound quality of Alana Beck’s (Amandla Stenberg) voice sharply declined for a few seconds in the middle of her singing.
The biggest issue this movie has, still, is its deep-seated desire to have its characters sing almost all the time. And when the musical numbers don’t look great, don’t sound great and can’t pack the emotional punch you’re going for, why include them at all?
Apart from Julianne Moore — bless her heart — why make this movie at all?
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