Warning: The following contains spoilers for the entirety of Dear Evan Hansen the musical and the movie.
It also discusses depression, mental health, sexual assault, and suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out to someone to help such as the Samaritans who I frankly can personally vouch for in terms of their compassion and effectiveness.
Dear Evan Hansen is a bad story.
There’s your “Marley was dead” for any essay, analysis, review, recap, or whatever about Dear Evan Hansen, be it the show or the movie. Anybody who comes out of the gate and doesn’t acknowledge that Dear Evan Hansen is a bad story is either in denial or straight up lying to you in the same way as anybody who comes out of the gate saying that Cats isn’t a weird story is either full of it or living in some reality where a bunch of cats having a party to decide which one of them gets to die is normal. Either way it’s not an opinion worth listening to.
Now don’t get me wrong: story is an entirely separate issue from songs and music. And that’s where Dear Evan Hansen and Cats start confusing people. Cats is a weird story but it has fucking awesome songs and music. And if you say it doesn’t well you’re entitled to your wrong opinion. Believe me, ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber went - ironically - mask off with antisemitic “jokes” about COVID and treated his Cinderella cast horribly I would be thrilled to throw one of his most famous musicals under the bus and say that the songs and music in it suck. But they don’t. The music is amazing even when you factor in the “Dear god did everything have to be done on a Casio keyboard back in the 80s?” of it and you know god damn well as a song Memory is going to live longer than a lot of recorded human history.
Dear Evan Hansen has the same thing. The story is bad - and I’ll get to why, believe me. But the songs and music are awesome. Waving Through A Window, For Forever, Sincerely, Me, Disappear, You Will Be Found, Words Fail - are you catching on to how this is a long list right now? And that’s not even touching on things like So Big / So Small which is probably an actual physical punch into the heart of every parent who listens to it or Requiem which I personally have put on the Spotify playlist of more RPG characters of mine than I can count.
(Okay three but still.)
This then brings us to the problem of trying to have any sort of discussion about Dear Evan Hansen the movie. Was it a good adaptation? Were the changes any good? Should Ben Platt have played Evan? We can’t talk about any of this in a vacuum. It’s like me trying to give commentary on the American Civil War without mentioning what people were fighting about. Sure I could but I’m skipping over a lot of important context and information.
So! In talking about the movie we’re going to talk about all of it. The story of Dear Evan Hansen, the songs and music of Dear Evan Hansen, why I think Ben Platt did need to play the part in the movie in spite of his age, and whether the movie was any good.
Let’s get started.
Why Dear Evan Hansen Is A Bad Story Hidden By Good Songs
For those who aren’t familiar, the logline for Dear Evan Hansen is “A high school senior with social anxiety invents an important role for himself in a tragedy that he did not earn.”
Interesting concept! Definitely a good hook for a story. But now we have to get into the details.
The slightly longer explanation of Dear Evan Hansen is that Evan, in a moment of panic and confusion upon being told one of his classmates had died by suicide, lies and says he and the classmate, Connor Murphy, were best friends. He then perpetuates the lie to his school, the internet, and Connor’s family, creating even more lies backed by fake emails about how well he knew Connor to the point that he’s straight up gaslighting Connor’s mourning mother, father (step-father in the movie), and sister Zoe about who Connor really was as a person. Even also gets widespread internet fame when a speech he gives at a memorial for Connor goes viral about how no one is truly alone. (Remember this, we’re coming back to it.)
The impact of the lie gets compounded when another student, Alana, who also was never friends with Connor, takes it upon herself to capitalize on Evan’s viral fame to create a fundraiser in Connor’s name where the money will go to some vaguely defined mental health related thing and also dedicating an apple orchard to Connor’s name because Evan has convinced people Connor cared about this orchard. What naming the orchard after Connor is supposed to do to help anybody is never explained but it’s very important for some reason.
On top of that Evan starts dating Zoe and, depending on the staging of the performance you saw - it was very much this in the one I did but I have friends who say in the performances they saw it was more ambiguous - Evan ends up sleeping with Zoe. Which is, because he’s been lying to her the whole time, rape by deception. Regular readers of the site know just how much I love that as a thing that just gets thrown into a story as no big deal.
Things come to a head when the letter Evan wrote to himself as a therapy assignment (the “Dear Evan Hansen” of the title) which was confused for Connor’s suicide note is posted online. The viral fame Evan had is turned into horror as the wording of the note convinces people that Connor’s family didn’t care about him and possibly drove him to suicide. The Murphys are harassed and subjected to death threats, forcing Evan to finally admit the truth to them.
At which point Evan suffers no consequences for his actions whatsoever, the orchard is dedicated to Connor anyway, and Zoe gives Evan a sort of blessing for the fact that his lie actually did create something good, which was the orchard. Which… exists? Is open again? Something? Regardless Evan ends the musical with the feeling that he will now feel brave enough to overcome his anxiety from now on. Close curtain.
At its most basic the story of Dear Evan Hansen is a hot mess. Is this drama? Comedy? Black comedy? There’s jokes! Genuinely funny bits and an entire song (Sincerely, Me) played for laughs. The show opens with a nervous monologue from Evan which is entirely about soliciting laughter from the audience.
But it’s also about mental health? Kind of? #YouWillBeFound, which was the message of Evan’s speech at Connor’s memorial, was the hashtag most used to encourage fans to amplify the show on social media. It's even part of the show’s official merchandise with a blurb about how it’s Evan’s “uplifting” message!
Except… in the context of the show You Will Be Found is a lie. It is part of Evan’s lie. Connor wasn’t found, he died by suicide. Evan himself also wasn’t found. It’s revealed over the course of the show that the cast he wears in act one came from his own suicide attempt which resulted in him lying alone in the woods for 10 minutes before having to take himself to the emergency room for his broken arm.
It’s a lie and Evan knows it because it’s part of the fantasy he’s spinning. The first story he tells Connor’s parents is that Connor was there with him that day in the woods and that it was Connor who took care of him (except whoops - not the woods, the orchard! Totally that orchard Connor absolutely 100% loved.)
So it’s a made up fantasy by Evan and in the show it’s the springboard for a rather aptly done cynical observation that viral conversations about mental health are useless, empty words without actual action behind them. On stage they show what’s being said on social media about Evan’s speech and it’s all sorts of people super seriously saying things like “Everybody NEEDS to see this!” and “Thank you, Evan Hansen, for giving us a space to remember Connor” and on and on. It is in the text that this is an empty message and people grasping on to the idea of Connor for their own benefit in the same way that Evan is.
And on the odd chance you doubt that the show is aware that You Will Be Found isn’t actually a message of hope, there’s the way that it comes back in a callback in Act 2. When the Murphys are now being hounded and harassed we once again hear “You are not alone” from You Will Be Found repeated over and over…. only now it’s ominous. The Murphys aren’t alone. Because they are being found, only it’s by people who are threatening them.
Which then brings us to the problem of Dear Evan Hansen which is that the story is bad but the music is good. Because if you rip You Will Be Found out of the show and play it without context it is a message of hope! It sounds wonderful! But what happened in the real world of the internet is that people were able to listen to the Broadway Cast Recording of the show long before they could see the show itself (legally or otherwise) so they didn’t have the context that this isn’t meant to be a message of hope at all.
The issue of Dear Evan Hansen’s songs being taken out of context also lead to another problem: people thinking this was legitimately a story about a queer romance. Evan making up a story about Connor being the one there for him in his time of greatest need combined with Connor’s own troubles made people suspect that possibly this was a story about two queer teens who had feelings for each other but who struggled under the force of a homophobic society. This interpretation was reinforced by how the character of Jared frequently makes jokes about Evan seeming to be hot for Connor based on how Evan talks about him. This is even lampshaded in Sincerely, Me when Evan and imaginary Connor have to hastily sing “No, not because we’re gay! We’re close, but not that way! The only man that I love is my dad! Well anywaaaaaaaaaaaaaay….”
And, let’s be real, the assumption that Connor was gay was helped by how Connor was originally played by Mike Feist who, as I’ve said elsewhere, you hire for a part for many of the same reasons you hire Sebastian Stan for a part (if you know you know).
This, combined with the fact that the show itself doesn’t stick the landing on acknowledging that what Evan did was horrible (again remember he not only gets no consequences but is even given something like approval from Zoe), meant the door was wide open for people who were fans of the songs but not familiar with the show to heavily identify with Dear Evan Hansen as a sincere message about mental illness with no cynicism or calling out of empty gestures involved.
To which… well frankly what was anybody involved with the show supposed to do? Tell queer teens writing Ben Platt letters saying “I didn’t let go because of you” “Sorry kid but we were actually saying that you shouldn’t be taking messages of hope from things taken out of context on the internet, be it somebody’s 'RT to raise awareness!' or a Broadway Cast Recording?”
Hence why you have things like Ben Platt practically having a real world panic attack as he tries to come up with a diplomatic answer on the fly when Joy Behar suggests that the message of the show was that Evan’s lie was a force for good. As Ben stuttered his way through saying, the show is meant to be morally ambiguous. It was meant to straddle the line of comedy and drama, sincerity and cynicism. Instead it turned into a musical that could be called “What if We Performed Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It!) But Without The Irony?”
Now in fairness I’m not saying that no one understood the full message of the show without seeing it (especially since bootlegs exist). And in fairness to the show while it knew You Will Be Found was one of the touchstone songs for the show it did try to get Disappear out there as the touchstone song for mental health. Which it is! In the show Disappear is the song Evan’s imaginary version of Connor sings to him and it speaks to the feelings of feeling lost, unloved, and how nobody deserves to vanish without anyone caring. It’s a great song done sincerely. Unfortunately it wasn’t the one people latched on to.
As the show itself points out, viral messages are gonna viral. Things took on a life of their own and when you’re a show with a rapidly aging like milk premise of “Musical heavily reliant on the concept of teens using social media” you grab what publicity you can before you have to close.
All that being said, we’re not yet done talking about the music. Which brings us to one Alex Lacamoire.
Why Alex Lacamoire Is Also Responsible For Dear Evan Hansen’s Success
For those who wonder, a book in a musical is the script. Not to put it too harshly but everything we just talked about with how the story of Dear Evan Hansen is a hot mess? Yeah. sorry, Steven, but facts are facts. In fairness I don’t blame Steven for how the story wasn’t tighter. There’s a lot of things that go into the making of a musical and you can tell Dear Evan Hansen has the hallmarks of things that did not have a smooth transition from workshopping to stage. I’ll get into examples of that later when we talk about changes between stage and movie. But point being the mess of the story, to me, reads like it comes from much the same problem. It’s a lot of concepts stitched together in a Frankenstein’s monster format that they were able to shove on stage because most of the songs were so freaking good.
Yeah, I said most. We’re getting there too.
In addition to your book you have music and lyrics. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are known for such things as The Greatest Showman, known for being the musical about Barnum I refuse to acknowledge because we already had one which was far superior, and La La Land, known for being the movie that rightfully lost to Moonlight at the Oscars.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul can put together some very good songs - the things you create when you combine music and lyrics. They have awards for doing so and everything. But, put kindly, they also have a fair number of songs which balance the quality of their output, often due to things like having six words long syndrome.
What takes everything Benj Pasek and Justin Paul do from mid and good to amazing is the orchestration. And that is because of Alex Lacamoire.
Put simply, when referring to music and lyrics we are talking about very basic music. The lyrics tend to be the lyrics, which is to say the words your singer sings. “Doe, a deer, a female deer” is an example of lyrics.
Music refers to the notes. That’s your do-re-mi of Doe, a deer. And of course no generalization is worth a damn including this one, but in general when we are at the early stage of composing a song the music is formed by using one single instrument. Piano or guitar tend to be the most common. The person or people writing the song are focused on the bare bones of the piece: What will the singer sing and what notes will they use to sing it?
Anybody remember the show MTV Unplugged? The reason why bands like Nirvana were able to blow people’s minds by playing songs with simple accompaniment compared to their more complex and famous forms wasn’t because of some magic spell. It’s because they took their songs back to how they were originally written. Lyrics, one instrument, go from there. Pretty much every song starts out this way.
What the person in charge of your orchestration does is take that basic structure and expand on it. You start out with a piano? Cool, let’s add some strings and horns in there. You have the do-re-mi part written? Great, now let’s add in all sorts of other notes.
This is a vast oversimplification but it gives you a good starting point to understand why, when you hire Alex Lacamoire to do your show’s orchestration, this is effectively like hitting “CTRL-X Tony Awards All” on the Sims game of your musical’s life. Because what Alex Lacamoire does - and what all good orchestrators do - is not just add in some instruments here and there but add in whole other themes, melodies, and motifs to elevate the material. That ominous playing of You Will Be Found when the internet turns on the Murphys? Guess where stuff like that tends to come from.
Alex Lacamoire is so good at this he’s known as a secret weapon for Broadway shows, including a little production you may have heard of called Hamilton. And if you want the shortest explanation for why people who understand music lost their fucking minds when Hamilton came out, it’s because when you look at how intricately and deftly Alex Lacamoire and Lin-Manuel Miranda wove the lyrics and musical motifs of the show together it looks like a map of the god damn universe.
Oh, and he does all of this while not being able to hear all the notes. No big deal.
Alex Lacamoire took the songs that were done by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul with piano accompaniment and went cool, let’s make this even better. And while Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t have the intricacy of Hamilton (because dear God what could?) the orchestrations take the already pretty good songs and elevated them to award winning.
In fact, if you ever wonder why a seemingly mediocre musical is being treated like it’s amazing, there’s fair odds Alex Lacamoire is behind it.
All of which brings us to the main person performing said songs.
Why Ben Platt Needed To Play Evan Hansen In the Dear Evan Hansen Movie
Let’s not mince words here: Ben Platt is a nepo baby. His father is Marc Platt, noted producer of musicals for both stage and screen. The Dear Evan Hansen movie is a Marc Platt production. It is arguably a movie that only exists because Marc Platt made it happen. So a very simple answer to the question of “Why did Ben Platt need to star in the Dear Even Hansen movie?” is “Because his dad paid for it.”
However - I’m gonna go against the grain here and say that if you’re making a Dear Evan Hansen movie you want Ben Platt to star. Yes, even if at 27 he was arguably too old for the part.
Let’s talk about the role.
Evan Hansen is a seriously hard role to play. Evan is on stage for the majority of the show and out of 19 songs he either solos or takes part in 12. Sheer volume of work alone makes the job very taxing.
Then you add the type of songs into the equation. The songs themselves are brutal. Most notably Words Fail where, even if you perform it straight, is almost six solid minutes of taking your vocal cords on a roller coaster while rubbing them with sandpaper.
Then there’s the question of whether or not you cry during it. That makes it so much worse.
While singing Words Fail Ben Platt cries. He cries full on ugly snot and tears. He cries while singing.
I cannot possibly give a better explanation for why singers should never cry while singing than Sideways already did when talking about Anne Hathaway’s performance in Les Miserables. I encourage you to watch his video even if it’s only for that section I’ve linked to (though the whole thing is amazing and educational and I can’t recommend it enough). But to give the woefully shortened version I will steal his example that trying to sing while crying actual tears is like trying to play a Stradivarius after you’ve dunked it in a bathtub full of slime. Singers need to protect their voices. They need to treat themselves like valuable instruments because that’s what they are. Ben Platt took on a role that required him to not only put himself through this wringer emotionally and physically but to do it 8 times a week.
Now we can - and I would - argue that actual crying should not be part of the role. It’s not as though folks sitting in seat 27 P at the Music Box theater are going to be able to tell the difference. However - as Sideways pointed out - sometimes the tears happen even if you don’t want them to, as in the example he used of Bernadette Peters. Plus some songs just bring it out of you no matter what. I mean if it’s possible for anyone to listen to She Used to be Mine without weeping I’m not sure I want to know them.
The role of Evan Hansen was so demanding that people were legitimately worried about Ben Platt’s health while he was performing it. Quality of the performance aside, how could he meet the bare requirements of the job without destroying himself?
Enter Liz Caplan. Regular readers of the site will remember Liz Caplan as the person who got Andrew Garfield to sing for Tick, Tick…Boom! As Alex Lacamoire is considered a secret weapon for orchestration, Liz Caplan is considered a secret weapon for getting people to sing in a healthful manner.
Now her methods - breathing, crystals, and all - might seem weird but they work. Particularly her focus on the physical demands that a part entails. Hence why she worked with Ben Platt to figure out what exactly he needed to be doing in order to hit all the notes being demanded of him while without putting his body through more agony than was necessary.
Okay, cool, but here’s the thing: he needs to be performing a role while he does it.
Which brings us back to Ben Platt’s actual skills, regardless of who his dad happens to be.
Not only is Ben Platt good at singing in general, what he was also good at was figuring out how to take all the things he had to do to keep himself healthy and make them part of the role. Read almost any commentary about Evan Hansen the character and you’ll usually see mention of how “twitchy” Evan is. And yes, Evan Hansen is an anxious character who is frequently in motion. However, what’s hidden in that is Ben Platt taking care of himself as he performs.
Let’s talk comparisons. Here’s Sam Tutty, who originated the role of Evan Hansen when the show opened in London, performing Waving Through A Window at the Olivier Awards. Now Sam Tutty does a great job playing Evan Hansen. He won an award for it and many argued he also won he right to play the role in the movie given that Ben Platt was supposedly too old. But watch Sam’s physicality. Even though he’s doing this performance concert style instead of as the character you can see his mannerisms for Evan creeping in thanks to muscle memory. There’s not too much there. It’s mainly some facial expressions and gestures with his hands. You can see it even more in this self-tape he did. If you know what to look for you can see he’s doing a few things to help preserve his voice but by and large what he’s doing is channeling Ben Platt’s mannerisms on a lesser scale.
And to be clear I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! When you take on a role in a musical your job is to channel the role as originally created and make it your own. Sam Tutty is doing the right thing by looking to Ben Platt’s performance for cues. Moreover, Sam’s doing a great job because he’s successfully making the mannerisms feel natural to his performance. There’s quite a few people who try to play Evan who are far more on the side of “An actor conveys anxiety!” than truly acting a nervous character (some of which I’ll link to in a bit).
The reason why I point it out, though, is so that you can look at Sam Tutty and see hints of what you should be looking for when we go back to Ben Platt.
Here’s Ben Platt performing Waving Through A Window for the 2016 Obie Awards. Notice how this has a similar setup to Sam Tutty at the Olivier Awards: performer and musical accompaniment. Timeline-wise this was early in Dear Evan Hansen’s run, the Obie Awards being for shows that are off-Broadway, which Dear Evan Hansen started out as. Notice how Ben starts similar to Sam with subtle movements but then as the song goes on he can’t help himself and he gets more and more into how he sings the part when he’s performing it on the show.
Now let’s look at how he performs it when he’s in character. Here he is doing Waving Through A Window on Late Night With Seth Meyers. Again, back in 2016, now as the show has moved to Broadway. See how much more physical he’s being with the part? Not just in that he can move around the stage but in how his entire body is moving even when he’s standing still?
Now here he is performing Waving Through a Window at the 2017 Tony Awards.
What’s the thing we’re picking up on with this chronological progression? He gets more physical.
Oh, okay, Even’s just more twitchy, right? Ben’s making Evan act more nervous?
Watch again. Watch closely. Ben Platt isn’t being “twitchy.” He’s carefully manipulating and engaging his muscles to allow himself to safely sing the song.
See those leg lifts? The way he twists his head? The way he not only touches his chest but subtly pushes in? Each one of those moves is keeping him safe. But the audience doesn’t know it because he made it part of the character. And if you want to say “Oh, that’s just how Ben sings” well here he is performing a song from Parade where, yeah, you can see him doing some of those protective moves but there is zero hint of Evan Hansen while Ben is performing as Leo Frank. These are two separate characters with entirely different mannerisms. To abuse a turn of phrase, Ben Platt understands the assignment of what to do when you're playing a part.
Now we can argue that playing a character while meeting the demands of a role is a little thing we call “acting” and thus part of the job. And that’s true. But being able to do it well is the thing that makes you stand out and Ben Platt does it well. And if you want that point of comparison, here’s a bunch of people doing the climax of Words Fail, including other Evan Hansens. For extra bonus points watch that while asking yourself: Of the folks performing the role, who is convincingly acting anxious compared to making random gestures? Of the ones performing the role, who is moving at all compared to doing a park and bark? Which ones of them manage to hold the notes (and single breath) of “I never let them see the worst of me” the longest?
And for your final question on this pop quiz: Who manages to do all of it?
Yeah, it’s Ben Platt. It’s unquestionably Ben Platt.
Which brings us back to the movie.
Should Ben have pulled a Lin-Manel Miranda and made himself the Dear Evan Hansen equivalent of the Piragua Guy? Possibly by cameoing as the principal or something? Maybe. If he was in his 30s or older I’d probably argue that yeah, he probably should have. Evan Hansen isn’t Jean Valjean where an actor known for the role can stick with it for as many years as they can hit the notes. You do have to somehow convincingly look like a teenager.
But at 27 Ben Platt by far is not the oldest person to play a teen. More to the point he’s not that much older than he was when he played Evan Hansen on Broadway at 23. And while many people argued that the movie could’ve and should’ve brought in other actors who made the role of Evan their own, I’m going to say that Ben Platt did far too much for the role to be put out to pasture with only four years of age on him. As I’ve said, anybody else doing the part would’ve been doing their version of him. Dude is right there, throw him on screen!
Where they went wrong with Ben, in my not so humble opinion, was in casting, hair, and makeup.
As far as casting in the movie goes, what happened is there were people cast as Evan’s peers who were younger than Ben Platt and looked it. Amandla Stenberg was 22, Kaitlyn Dever was 24, and Colton Ryan was 25 during filming. Of the three of them Colton Ryan is the one who came off the oldest in appearance but still younger looking than Ben. The actual oldest of the four, Nik Dodani at 27, looked the youngest of all thanks to his mannerisms and body type.
And I’m not faulting any of that casting whatsoever! All of them played their roles and sang wonderfully. Also if you want to know who has a harder job than the actor playing Evan Hansen on stage, try Colton Ryan who had to know how to play Evan, Connor, and Jared and be ready to hop into any of those roles at a moment’s notice.
Never disrespect understudies, people. Never.
But point being this great casting involved people who both played and looked like teenagers. Which meant Ben Platt needed to match them in appearance and oof he did not.
Which brings us to hair and makeup. I’m not going to name names here because I don’t like slagging off on the work of people who were probably doing their best. But for some reason - maybe budget, maybe difficulties due to COVID, maybe someone accidentally breaking a cursed object while on set one day, Ben Platt was put into what is possibly one of the worst wigs in human existence and given a makeup job which made him far more comparable in appearance to Julianne Moore and Amy Adams in the movie who, themselves, also looked easily 10 to 20 years older than they are.
I don’t know why. I mean as we’ve established Ben’s dad was signing everybody’s paychecks so presumably if this is what was done to Ben that’s what they wanted done?
Regardless, the end result is that instead of looking like a teenager or even like someone in his late 20s, Ben looks like somebody in his forties. Which means that when he’s performing off of Amy and Julienne he has a weird peer to peer kind of chemistry that makes it seem like at any moment the changes from the stage version are going to take a wild turn for brand new sex scenes, possibly incestuous. And when Ben’s performing off of Evan’s peers he comes off as the most failed 21 Jump Street attempt since Lenny Wosniak.
The problem of this is then compounded by how the movie was directed. So, while I genuinely do think Ben Platt should’ve played the part in the movie regardless of who produced it, let’s talk about why the movie itself wasn’t so hot.
Why Dear Evan Hansen the Movie Wasn’t Great, Wasn’t Terrible
Look, as regular readers of the site know I’ve seen worse. At least when I watch the movie of Dear Evan Hansen I don’t come away thinking that everyone involved hated the very idea of musicals and all that they entail. I think people involved with this movie appreciated the show and wanted to do a good version of it.
They just didn’t entirely get there.
But! In fairness! We have to go back to the beginning which is Dear Evan Hansen is a bad story. Any version of Dear Evan Hansen is built on top of a flawed foundation by being a version of Dear Evan Hansen. It’s taking a hot mess of a story and hoping like shit the songs and music elevate the material.
Which a movie version could do! But not this one. Not as well as it could have.
Don’t get me wrong! I think the movie of Dear Evan Hansen is a lot better than people claimed. No, it’s not award worthy by a long shot. But it’s not actively horrible. There’s some changes that are good, some that are worse, and the rest hovers up and down over a middle ground. If death is not an option I will watch the movie of Dear Evan Hansen a thousand times over Spielberg’s West Side Story or Tom Hooper’s Cats.
I’ll get into the more nitty gritty high and low lights in a second. But I will say I think a large part of the reason why the movie isn’t better than it was is that they went with Stephen Chbosky as a director. Stephen’s done some musical films - notably Rent and the live action version of Beauty and the Beast - but I think the real reason he was picked was because he’s also known for directing The Perks of Being A Wallflower based on the book he wrote of the same name.
On paper this sounds like a good idea. For those not familiar, The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a story about a teenager dealing with mental health issues who, by the by, is also known for writing letters about his life and dealing with the death by suicide of someone he knows. The connection to Dear Evan Hansen is a no brainer. It almost feels weird not to get Stephen Chbosky to direct.
Except the problem is you’ll note the musicals Stephen has to his name aren’t exactly famous for being well filmed musicals. Rent is mainly loved by people who already loved Rent and only have the movie or bootleg copies of the show for options. And Beauty and the Beast already has people far smarter than I am explaining why it doesn’t work. And, as we’ve spent most of our time here discussing, it’s not the story of Dear Evan Hansen that sells the show. It’s the songs and music. If you don’t know how to handle your songs and music, you’re not the choice for Dear Evan Hansen.
This becomes apparent in things like how the movie doesn’t know how to handle the translation of how, on stage, Evan frequently addresses the audience. He doesn’t call anybody out by name but he is doing monologues and songs in their direction, drawing them into his feelings and thoughts as he does. Movies obviously have no audiences so in the film Stephen Chbosky addresses this by having Evan look directly into the camera… sort of.
Some of this goes to cinematographer Brandon Trost but the movie has an oddly Wes Anderson-esque love of a center framed shot. But while Wes Anderson does it on purpose the movie of Dear Evan Hansen does it seemingly at random. Sure it sort of kind of works when an actor is singing at the camera, but not when the visual language of the film is interspersed with scattershot other center framing. For example, during a scene at the Murphys the center framing is such that the dining table cuts the frame in two and in the background are doorways to one room with entirely white furniture and another with entirely black. This is great symbolism of… something. You never actually know what but boy if there had been intended meaning it’d be a good one.
Then you have how the movie makes a habit of undercutting its own visuals as though afraid to commit. For example, Evan starts the movie by looking directly at the audience only then we get another camera angle to show ha ha! He was actually talking to himself in a mirror! Then you have other characters who sometimes sing while facing the audience which misses the point of why Evan addresses the audience. Evan is developing a relationship with the audience. Characters like Alana and the imaginary version of Connor don’t and shouldn’t be.
On top of all that you have the concept of how to handle characters who are singing in a movie musical that isn’t the song and dance extravaganza of an In the Heights. Here again Stephen Chbosky struggles and creates inadvertent comedy. In Waving Through A Window Evan singing as he wistfully looks out a car window might work if not for how Heidi in the background ends up turning to look at him quizzically as though realizing her son is ignoring her while mumbling to himself.
Or, in what’s possibly the most painful example, Words Fail in which of course you want Ben Platt singing the shit out of it like he did on stage. Only Ben’s not aiming his notes for a building the size of a theater. He’s in a dining room. Which means Evan comes off not like someone having a guilt ridden breakdown but rather like a random person who broke into the Murphy’s home to hold them hostage while screaming at them. Which, in turn, is not helped by how the three members of the Murphy family were directed to… just sit there. With no expressions on their faces. While he sings.
And if you want to argue well what are the Murphys supposed to do? They’re in shock! I can tell you that everyone who played the Murphys on stage handled it fine and without the benefit of edits to cut away and hide what they’re doing. You can convey shock, disgust, and even move without drawing attention away from Ben Platt’s performance, I assure you.
The clip I linked to cuts off before the other problem with the movie which is the need to make everything in the songs far more real than in the show. In the show Words Fail starts as something Evan sings to the Murphys as part of his confession, but then he is ultimately left alone on stage without even his imaginary version of Connor for company as he finishes the song off. This signifies a passage of time but not that much. His next scene - in fact without Ben leaving the stage at all - is So Big / So Small with Heidi. The implication is that he confessed to the Murphys and then admitted to himself none of it - including his connection to the Murphys - was real on the way home.
In the movie, on the other hand, they cut to Evan at school, Evan outside, Evan in the woods, Evan on a bench somewhere, and so on. Is it his walk home? Is it the same day? Weeks or months later? Who knows!
We’ll get back to the issues with that in a minute but to round out the muddled visual language of the movie we also have things like the inability to tell what is and isn’t a fantasy sequence. Sincerely, Me clearly has them in what’s a fair translation of the dancing Evan ends up doing on stage with imaginary Connor, but then Only Us has them too and… are they fantasy or is this a montage? Are we being shown what Evan hopes will happen or are we being told that he and Zoe did go on multiple dates and to school dances together? Considering that part of the horror of his lie is anything Evan does with Zoe, this isn’t something that should be ambiguous.
One last point I want to make about the handling of the songs before we get to the movie as a whole is I want to give a shout out to editor Anne McCabe who some people tried to make fun of purely based on clips from the film. Now Anne McCabe had no musical experience prior to Dear Evan Hansen and you know how I feel about poorly edited musicals. So if she’d done a bad job I’d be first in line to say so.
But honestly she didn’t. The “crime” people point to is the rapid cuts in Waving Through A Window. The idea being oh my god! So many cuts! Clearly the editor doesn’t know what they’re doing!
What I suspect, though, is you had people high off the viral video of the horrible editing in Bohemian Rhapsody which was, in fact, horrible and even the editor himself acknowledges it (while explaining those edits were not his call, one of many reasons why I constantly beat the drum of how poor quality isn’t always the fault of the person who did whatever the thing is).
The cuts in Waving Through A Window, however, aren’t random. The cuts in America are random and I’ve already gone on at length about how bad they are and why. In Waving Through A Window, though, the cuts serve a purpose. Evan is anxious and overwhelmed. The editing reflects how there is far too much going on around him and he’s having a hard time not feeling lost inside of it. Anne McCabe is also hitting the edits on the beat of the song which is more than Michael Kahn ever managed to do during the entirety of West Side Story and yes, I’m still bitter.
Moreover, we also have a direct comparison for the edits in Waving Through a Window: the edits in Anonymous Ones. Here we’re shown the exact same scenes except from Alana’s point of view. What are our edits? Nice and long, with a steady camera on Alana as she sings. It perfectly represents Alana’s mindset which, unlike Evan’s, is her keeping careful control of what she feels by staying tightly focused on her tasks.
So yeah, anybody who insults the editing of Dear Evan Hansen can suck it. Anne McCabe did fine. Also in terms of doing fine let me shout out Stephen Chbosky and everyone else involved for how well executed those multiple crowd scenes are. I rewound and watched those several times both times they showed up in the movie because wow the amount of work that entailed. Seriously, well done. No notes.
Since we’re touching on Alana’s new song this is as good a place as any to segue into the changes from stage to screen. Here I think there were mixed results.
One of the best ideas was that the movie gets rid of Does Anybody Have A Map? which, along with the also wisely jettisoned To Break In A Glove and could’ve gone either way but not really missed Good For You hinted of a version of Dear Evan Hansen that was once more about the parents than it was about Evan.
Does Anybody Have A Map? in particular stands out as an odd choice for an opening number which, as I’ve talked about elsewhere is the thing that teaches your audience what the show is about and how it will be about it. Opening Dear Evan Hansen with a song by and about the two mothers makes zero sense in the context of the final product. I don’t have the magic super power for musicals that I do for movies and TV but if I had to place a bet my guess is that this song was a remnant of a version of the musical early in the workshop days which, because the song was at some point able to be marked as “done” nobody ever questioned again.
There’s also the issue of how stage performances have needs that movie performances don’t. In this case that at some point during all this time Ben Platt needs space to take a breath once in a while. It’s not for nothing that his part in So Big / So Small is to sit on a couch and listen to Heidi - it comes right after Words Fail. Home boy needs a cup of hot water and some throat coat but the curtain hasn’t come down yet so this is the best we can do for him while the show has 10 minutes left on the clock.
So I suspect another reason why Does Anybody Have A Map? was left in was because it provides balance for songs like To Break In A Glove and Good For You, which is to say not make it feel so jarring that we’re hearing from the adult characters for a significant amount of time. Ideally it would’ve been balanced with actual better songs as well (other than Good For You, which isn’t too bad) but sometimes in the life of a show you’re just happy to call a section done.
The movie doesn’t have to worry about giving Ben a break, though. In fact if you go back to Words Fail you’ll see that the edits in that case help hide the breaks Ben needed. At a few points you can see him start to tear up, then there’s a cut and he’s calmer. Blessedly this is not distractingly obvious but it is still there. And this is good! That’s how it should be handled! (Again compared to the horror show of Les Miserables where it’s a miracle none of the actors were actually hurt during filming.)
But point being since filming allows Ben Platt to take all the breaks he needs then the movie makes the right call by tossing Does Anybody Have A Map? out the window (heh) for Waving Through A Window which is the superior choice for an opening number by far. So the movie comes out in the win column both for this choice and for getting rid of To Break In A Glove which was just… I mean seriously why was that in there? Ever? (Again besides giving Ben Platt a break but come on! Write a better song for it!)
A song that’s a shame to lose is Disappear which, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of the few sincere songs about mental illness in the entire show. I suspect part of the choice was that they also got rid of the idea of an imaginary Connor keeping Evan company, which… I mean it’s fine. It doesn’t ruin the movie but I’m not sure why they felt the need to get rid of it? Especially because as we’ve already mentioned the movie struggled with the translation of Evan addressing the audience. If it was me I’d have made imaginary Connor’s role bigger and used him as the audience surrogate.
I wonder if this had to do with scheduling, though, because Colon Ryan has vanishingly few scenes with Ben Platt. There’s when they bump into each other before Connor dies, there’s a few verses in Sincerely, Me, and that’s it. Connor only ever shows up again in A Little Closer, where his appearance is in an old video (which I’m getting to, believe me.)
(Also: peep that long oner in Sincerely, Me. That’s beautifully performed and shot. Again, no notes. This movie isn’t entirely bad, I swear!)
Another reason I suspect is that they fleshed out the character of Alana - another good choice since in the stage version she comes off as barely one dimensional, if that - and gave her a song of her own, Anonymous Ones, which is a song that does kind of hit the points that Disappear did, in that it’s intended to be a sincere song about not feeling alone when dealing with mental illness.
Except… look the song isn’t good. It has one good lyric “The parts we can’t tell / We carry them well / But that doesn’t mean they’re not heavy” which the movie makes sure to repeat often on the odd chance you missed THE MESSAGE. THIS IS THE MESSAGE, PEOPLE. DID YOU CATCH IT? Also things like pairing “ache they carry” with “pain they bury” is just… I mean rhyming dictionaries are free on the internet. Come on now.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s people who love the song and god bless. It’s not the worst song in the world by far. But when we’re talking about replacing one song with another Anonymous Ones isn’t as good as Disappear. Heck, give Disappear to Alana if you want! It’s just a shame to lose it is all.
Expanding Alana’s role brings up another issue with the movie which is that when it tries to be better it often makes things worse.
In the case of Alana, as I’ve said her role needed expanding. Casting Amandla Stenberg was brilliant because they put so much depth into Alana with facial expressions alone that already the part is expanded. (Which is no shade on anyone who played Alana on the stage. The fault there lies entirely with how thin the part was. If anything, props to all the actors who managed to make Alana come to life in spite of it.)
I’m likewise sure that what we see in the movie was intended to be Alana’s inner life the whole time. Every character in the show was always a depiction of some kind of mental illness. So giving Alana some stated motivations beyond appearing when the plot needs a shove to keep the story moving is theoretically a good.
The problem is that greater context doesn’t make Alana better, it makes her worse. In the stage version Alana is a driven person who only cares about shoring up enough credits and achievements for an impressive college resume. Thus when she does things like start the Connor Project without knowing Connor and then leaking what she believes is Connor’s suicide note - I mean none of these actions are great but she’s not presented as that great a person. What we know of her morals match her actions.
Compared to the movie version in which okay, we’re more sympathetic to why she would create the Connor Project - though we still have no clue why the orchard is the thing she keeps harping on as the important goal but we’ll get to that - but it’s worse when she leaks the suicide note. Since it’s now in the text that Alana understands Connor’s point of view - or what she believes is Connor’s point of view - it makes her a straight up asshole to know that and leak the letter anyway.
But the Alana problem is nothing compared to what the movie does to try to “fix” Evan.
In the show Evan reveals his secret, sings Words Fail, goes home, gets reassurance his mom will always be there for him no matter how bad things are (which is both about his lie and his suicide attempt), and then there’s a time jump. Evan meets up with Zoe at the orchard about a year later. Then we find out that Evan’s been keeping a low profile, going to therapy and spending a lot of time working on himself and his issues. He also acknowledges that this is in no way comparable but he has gone back to a list of favorite books Connor mentioned in a yearbook in a younger grade and has been reading the books to at least have some idea of who the real Connor was.
The Murphys didn’t tell anyone about his lie because no good would’ve come of that for anybody. Evan comments that he wishes he could’ve met Zoe as he is now. Zoe keeps her distance from him but does say she wanted him to see the orchard. The implication is that this is a gesture of… not necessarily total forgiveness but at least some grace? For what Evan did? Though again nobody ever explains why doing something with the orchard served a function of any kind? (I’ll get more into this in a minute.)
Zoe then leaves and that’s when Evan concludes that he finally knows how to be himself. He and the cast sing For Forever because for some reason they didn’t write a new song for this or pick a better one for the conclusion (say, a Waving Through A Window reprise? Yanno, Evan’s “I Want” song?? Which he’s now sort of fulfilling? As I’ve said Benj and Justin are good but they aren’t great.)
Anyway, point being that the ending of the show is… not amazing but it’s got some things going for it. While it’s completely unrealistic that the Murphys wouldn’t have to do things like move town and change their names after the backlash of the leaked letter, it’s building on how unrealistic it is that Evan himself was never the subject of multiple news stories and an appearance on Ellen when his speech went viral. Like you can’t fault the lack of plausibility on the one without pointing it out for the other, and since both are true we just have to accept it as truth for the reality of the show.
Thus the time jump, and Evan doing more reasonable things like focusing on his therapy, going to community college, and even trying to show some respect to the actual Connor do come across as acts of penance. Arguably nowhere near enough for what he did (especially if we’re to understand he slept with Zoe under false pretenses) but the implication is that he is trying to make amends. Likewise while Zoe gives him something not unlike her blessing it’s very clear from her actions and body language she wants Evan nowhere near her. She’s giving him some understanding given how he’s got his own fucked up issues to deal with, but that’s it.
The movie… makes different choices. Much worse choices.
In the movie we get more time after Words Fail. They pause at the same time the stage show does to have the Murphys leave Evan (which is all the worse when the symbolic gesture of them walking offstage in the show becomes Evan standing awkwardly in the Murphy’s dining room until Cynthia has to prompt him to leave). This then transitions to Evan telling Zoe at school that they have to reveal that it was him behind what happened.
Now in theory this is a noble action on Evan’s part. The movie is trying to address the issue with the show, which is that at no time, other than confessing to the Murphys, does Evan take responsibility for what he does. However, the way the movie handles it makes Evan a bad person.
From Words Fail all the way to the end credits Evan shows that, unlike his stage self who at least learned the lesson to pull back and work on himself more, movie Evan is a selfish asshole who only cares about making himself feel better.
Starting with how Evan approaches Zoe, which is already ignoring what other people need because none of the Murphys want Evan anywhere near them. The first thing Zoe says when Evan walks up is to miserably say, “Go away, Evan.” But Evan’s on a mission to make himself feel better! He wants to confess! So he ignores what Zoe wants in order to talk to her.
Now Evan gets told that the person responsible for making the call not to reveal Evan’s secret is Cynthia, who is worried that Evan might hurt himself if the truth was known by all. So one could make the argument that Evan is reading in between the lines of Zoe’s “It’s not my decision” to conclude that Zoe does want him to confess.
But you know what Evan doesn’t do at any point? Ask the Murphys about it. Or, for that matter, respect what he has been told.
Cynthia Murphy is a woman who is in such deep mourning for her son that she latched on to a random kid who showed up with fake evidence and stories of being her son’s best friend. Cynthia herself is in a vulnerable position. Likewise Connor’s step-Dad Larry and Zoe, who as we’ve established Evan has violated to some extent with his lies though at least with the movie it’s more unclear if a physical relationship was involved.
Regardless, Evan claims he wants to do this for the Murphys. This way they won’t be blamed for Connor! He’s fixing it!
Except he’s been told what the Murphys want. Zoe has told him they don’t want him to do it. That was clearly stated. And he goes home and does it anyway!
This then gets into the unrealistic portion of the movie and the show which is that Evan himself gets no blowback. Nevermind blowback from the Murphys for not respecting their wishes for the story to be left alone, there’s no in universe repercussion other than that Evan sits by himself at lunch. I already said I get we’re in the unrealistic world where none of these viral stories ended up on national news but in the story the Murphys are hounded when people think they’ve been liars about Connor. So it makes no sense that Evan, the confessed liar, is simply shunned for what he did. He should be dealing with people hounding him and giving death threats. But there’s nothing!
And look, I’m not saying I want to see Doxxing: The Musical but the point is that stories have to define the parameters of what they’re saying. If you’re trying to fix the stage version’s implication that Evan didn’t take enough responsibility and punishment for what he did then he needs to be punished. Being set back to where he was at the start of the movie, which is someone who sits alone at lunch, isn’t a punishment. It’s a reset. It’s like nothing happened at all.
Then we get what Evan continues to do.
They keep the part about Evan reading the books Connor liked, which is good. We didn’t need to actually see him do this but whatever, visual medium, it’s fine.
But then what Evan does is start to reach out to people who knew Connor to ask about him.
First of all, the entire fucking point of the show is that nobody truly knew Connor. If they had they would have been here already. Say, at his memorial? Just for a random example?
Second, why on fucking Earth would these people talk to the guy known for lying about being friends with Connor? Even if you ignore the part where Evan was the poster child for The Connor Project, aka the thing that collected over $100k from people under false pretenses and was therefore a straight up scam the movie just established that everyone knows Evan’s story! Who in the tapdancing fuck gets an email from the guy who everybody knows has some kind of weird stalkerish obsession with a dead person he barely met and goes “Sure! Let me tell you everything I know about him! That’s surely something helpful and not at all likely to encourage your delusional breaks with reality! Pull up a chair!”
And then one of the people who reaches back was in rehab with Connor! Which, okay, if this person was in rehab that at least provides an explanation for why they weren’t around before and maybe even an explanation for why they don’t know who Evan is. But this person shares a video of Connor playing music - A Little Closer - in a group therapy session.
Which… okay why was this being filmed? Yours truly has been to full on mental hospital group therapy and you know what’s not allowed? Whipping out your phones and recording! Also sharing information about who else is in group with you! Because that is a deep violation of everyone’s privacy!
And if you wanted to argue that this was some kind of family day event and thus not as private there’s the sticky issue that none of the Murphys were there. Which either means that none of them was supportive of Connor’s progress in rehab (which doesn’t jive with everything we’re told about Cynthia at the very least) or that, much more likely, this wasn’t a visitor day.
Okay, so then lets argue that this is the magic world where not only does Evan’s viral videos never result in visits from reporters but also where you’re allowed to record your group therapy sessions for prosperity. This video isn’t for Evan to share with people. Because Connor didn’t want it shared! You know why? Because nobody knew it existed! Connor knows he’s being recorded and he never asked his family to take a look a it!
So even in the corner of the universe where this rehab buddy exists and feels like sure, why the fuck not share this private group therapy session with a random stranger emailing him out of the blue about Connor Murphy without even doing a basic google on the name “Evan Hansen” just for funsies, this is not Evan’s video to share.
But share it he does! By snail mail! Because we’re also in a world where people open up manila envelopes with no return address and home addresses written in the Sharpied scrawl of a multi-tasking serial killer, find a thumb drive inside, and immediately hook that bad boy up to their computers because this is a world where viruses and malware don’t exist either, apparently!
Regardless of the how the main point is that this isn’t Evan’s to share. Never mind how Connor didn’t want it shared, how about the privacy of the other people in the frame? The people also in rehab? Who don’t know Evan or anybody else here and haven’t consented to this being given out to people they’ve never met?
Evan sends this not only to the Murphys but also Alana and Jared, And even if you want to argue some noble intent with the Murphys - hey, I did a good deed and found out things about your son/brother for you! Hope you don’t mind I’m continuing to violate your clearly stated boundaries in order to do it! - there’s no reason to give this to Alana and Jared. The two of them never claimed to know Connor! Their involvement was to perpetuate the lie (actively in Jared’s case by helping to fake the evidence, accidentally in Alana’s case by setting up The Connor Project) and more to the point Alana infamously does not respect privacy. Again, if the goal is to be respectful to Connor then Evan shouldn’t be poking into Connor’s private life at all and especially shouldn’t be sharing what he finds with the person known for leaking what she thought was his suicide note to the internet!
So the movie takes what’s a nice, albeit small gesture of Evan reading Connor’s favorite books as part of an act of penance to somehow know the person he claimed to be friends with, and turns it into Evan being a straight up asshole who stomps all over the wishes of the people he hurt as well as Connor's in order to make himself feel better.
Then we get the final scene with Zoe in the orchard. Here Zoe shows no signs of wanting physical distance from Evan. Worse, they make her be the one to say the line about wishing they’d met now. In other words, rather than Evan being the one to acknowledge that he is responsible for how he and Zoe will never be friends when it could have been possible if he’d just been himself, they make it seem as though Zoe somehow regrets that she and Evan can’t be together. Because… the guy who lied about being friends with her brother is so appealing? For some reason? Like what aspect of him as a person is supposedly doing it for Zoe? The part where he ingratiated himself to her family under false pretenses or the part where he kept digging into Connor’s private life even when you all said you wanted nothing to do with him?
Likewise the orchard is held up as some kind of great accomplishment which - okay I’m just going to get into this now even though it applies to the stage show as much as the movie. What exactly is going on with the orchard? If both the movie and show are holding it up as an example of being the one good thing that came from Evan's lie then they need to define why it's good. And neither version does!
The movie takes a stab at Alana presenting it as a symbol: If the orchard is named after Connor that symbolically represents that Connor wasn’t forgotten and therefore everyone else won’t be forgotten either. Okay. Cool.
You need $100k for that? Because that’s also what Alana establishes. They have money for some ambiguous mental health… thing but they still need money for the orchard! Oh my god, Evan, the orchard!
And just… does the plaque cost that much? What exactly is this $100k buying exactly? The movie tries to fix the dubiousness of the orchard by mentioning that it’s closed now so… I guess the money opens it? And names it after Connor? But what is the money doing?
The end of both the show and movie is that people come to the orchard and hang out and… okay? I mean there’s a perfectly fine woods for that! Evan broke his arm there and everything! And movie Zoe presents this as a great thing because she and her parents have a picnic there every weekend which… I mean it’s an orchard. Yeah there are picnic tables. I’m sure it’s a lovely view. But who owns this place? Does The Connor Project own this place? Do they pay for people to take care of the trees and harvest the apples? Do the apples then get sold to help keep the place running? Who’s in charge of that?
Like it’s just such a weird thing that the stage show tries to scurry past - and almost manages to do so since it’s covered fairly quickly - but the movie makes worse by trying to indicate that there was a real accomplishment here. As opposed to the $100k being used to fund therapy sessions for kids who otherwise couldn’t afford them? Or even a music therapy program at the high school Connor went to? I’m just spitballing here but you see how these are actual tangible benefits that would make it more understandable why Zoe might suggest to Evan that there was at least some good that came out of the clusterfuck of his lie?
Because as it is what the movie does is say that it was good that Evan lied because it did… something involving an orchard that meant nothing to anybody involved but now the Murphys gain the benefit of going there for a picnic to help them deal with the trauma of Connor’s death. A trauma which was, bee tee dubs, made worse by Evan lying to them. Which is true for both the show and the movie.
Sigh, y’all. Just sigh.
Anyway, point being the movie tries to fix the problems of the show but it only makes them so much worse. The solutions create more problems, Evan and Alana both come off like even bigger assholes than they did before, and now there’s tons apples rotting on the ground in what could also be great symbolism if it was done on purpose.
Dear Evan Hansen is a really bad story.
But it’s got good music. And the movie preserves some of that. So it’s okay. Not great, but not terrible. Certainly not as bad as people tried to claim it was.
And that’s my review.
As always, things that didn’t fit anywhere else
- Shout out to the props department that must’ve kept every print shop in a ten mile radius in business as they papered the walls of the school and every bedroom with posters, flyers, drawings, and more.
- Question mark to the props department for how the Murphy's home didn’t look like a place recently recovering from a funeral? Though I suspect this might have been due to issues with filming. There are scenes where you can see bouquets that are clearly intended to be related to Connor that take place after scenes in which the flowers aren’t there. My guess is that we’re seeing a continuity problem more than anything else. Also possibly Cynthia purposefully doesn’t want to keep the reminders around, but you can cover that with a line of dialogue.
- I wasn’t a fan of how they portrayed Evan taking his medication like an addict. Yes, sometimes when you’re having a panic attack you’re trying to get to your medication quickly and god knows I’ve had the fun of spilling my meds all over the floor and trying to scoop them all up because insurance only gives you so many per month. But in terms of mannerisms it implied Evan was relying on his medication in an unhealthy way instead of medication being a part of good mental health care (for those who need medication, of course).
- God bless but as a singer Julianne Moore is a great actress.
- Does Evan live next door to the school? Why did it seem like the entire population of town was walking by his house during Waving Through A Window?
- Another thing that did not translate well was the flashbacks of Evan in the woods. Ben Platt was acting those emotions for the folks in 27 P which does not work well on screen, especially when you’re wearing a wig that already looks like Fred Armisen doing a parody of you. This was not helped by how we got this flashback of Evan more often than the cumulative total times Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace has appeared in all forms of media. What should have been a powerful scene was made cringey, unfortunately.
- I wasn’t a fan of Zoe being suicidal herself in Requiem. I don’t mind the concept of exploring Zoe’s feelings - frankly the show should do that more, especially since god knows Evan rarely bothered to ask how she was doing. But showing her risking her life and then never following up on it cheapened the impact. If anything it just goes to show how forgotten Zoe is both by her own family and by the narrative. Requiem is all about how much she’s suffering to begin with now being made worse by what Evan’s gaslighting her family to believe. But hey: apple orchard! That makes it all better!
- Another thing the movie tries to fix is the queer representation by making Jared openly gay. Which… I mean better than no representation? But the acknowledgement of it is dropped in very clunkily. Plus the “No homo!” part of Sincerely, Me doesn’t come off that much better when it’s a gay character forcing his way into the song to be the one to say “But not because they’re gay!” Like just take the “not because we’re gay” lines out entirely, they won’t be missed.
- I don’t have much else but for some true lagniappe let me throw some performances at you:
- For 2018’s Broadway Easter Bonnet the casts of Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen came together to perform Found Tonight, a mashup of You Will Be Found and Story of Tonight. The mashup was originally performed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt at the March for Our Lives against gun violence and, well, let’s all just take a long moment to be depressed about how that’s been going since then.
- On a more lighthearted note, here’s the cast of Dear Evan Hansen happily parodying themselves for 2017’s Easter Bonnet.
- Finally, here’s a fun version of Sincerely, Me performed by Will Roland, the original Jared on Broadway, as well as Darren Criss and Grant Gustin. The show’s got some legit good songs! No shame in acknowledging that!
And there we go! A bit late for capturing the zeitgeist of either the show or the movie but hey: better late than never? Plus hopefully a little educational about how musicals are made.
To be clear, I’m not making fun of anybody who has taken comfort from Dear Evan Hansen in any form. I love many of the songs myself! They speak to me too! I’m only taking the step back to talk about intention vs execution vs interpretation. Ultimately the show helped people, and that’s of the good! The movie was hit or miss but in many ways it couldn’t help but be. it’s definitely a better movie than people gave it credit for though. If anything, it’s a shame more people didn’t give it a shot.
But hey: buried treasure for the rest of us. Even if it still doesn’t make the freaking orchard make any sense.
Thanks for reading!