It’s very hard to appease the expectations of theatergoers when a play is adapted to film. Let’s be honest, a film will always fall short of the energetic and emotional titillation that occurs when one is seated in front of exceptional performers, who give even more when entertaining a passionate crowd. There’s a shared synergy that enraptures the auditorium and for a brief two or more hours one can become completely lost in that communal spirit.
That rarely happens in a film setting, and never when viewing a screener alone. So, I am quite disappointed in some of the poor early reviews the latest stage to film adaptation DEAR EVAN HANSEN has received.
Let me preface my thoughts by stating I did not see “Dear Evan Hansen” in its on or off-Broadway productions. And I was leery of yet another film dealing significantly with mental health issues, as someone with an MS in Counseling Psychology. But I am also a lover of both film and musical theater so I was open to its premise, even if never seeing the source material.
The movie follows the journey of the titular character, portrayed by Benn Platt who originated the role on Broadway, as a high school senior dealing with social anxiety disorder who writes letters to himself as a therapeutic exercise assigned by his therapist and encouraged by his overworked and rarely available mother Heidi (Julianne Moore).
The teen shares three brief encounters with another isolated classmate named Connor (Colton Ryan), who signs Evan’s cast during their second and subsequently steals one of Evan’s letters during their last. When Connor dies by suicide, with Evan’s letter on his person, his parents assume that the pair were friends leading to a series of events that places Hansen in an unwanted spotlight yet with social experiences and relationships that he’s greatly yearned.
Although there are things that lend themselves better to film, or can be better adapted like a speeding car down a road by a frustrated character or the camera panning in on phone text sequences, a couple of songs and scenes appeared a bit off – like one with Connor that felt almost inappropriate considering the audience knows what becomes of his character.
Yet, the commentary regarding the use and impact of social media – and its love, hate, and like dynamic, the mental health awareness presented, and most of the performances made this film a worthwhile watch for me.
Even with the current debate about Platt reprising this role in his late twenties, he absolutely made me suspend disbelief and accept him as the awkward teenager and he absolutely kills every song he performs.
And though I love Julianne Moore, I would have liked to see a stronger vocalist cast in the role of Heidi Hansen. There is a pivotal scene between both mother and son that I believe lacked the intensity it should have, and it may have been more pivotal on stage but in the film doesn’t come through as powerful. I felt similarly about Amandla Stenberg as Evan’s schoolmate Alana, but she does deliver a monumental song with her vocals blending and lending better to the screen.
However, Amy Adams as Connor’s mother Cynthia and Daniel Pino who portrays his father Larry really impress as the grieving parents who overcompensate and undercompensate respectively, and Kaitlyn Dever as his sister and Evan’s love interest is a force that grips the viewer with her displays of both passion and pain and teenage angst.
And the musical highlight for me is definitely the song “You Will Be Found,” which would have floored me if I saw it performed live because I was absolutely a wet mess watching it on my television screen.
Overall, I think this adaptation works with the cast – especially Platt, Stenberg, Moore, Pino and Adams – all lending their dramatic strengths to a film that is chock-full of messaging and music that I found enjoyable. If you are not a fan of musicals, or you don’t enjoy young adult stories, this is not the film for you and I recommend a hard pass.
I rate it 3.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN opens in theaters Friday, September 24.
Until next thought, Thomasena