Dear Evan Hansen the theatrical production is one of the most beloved Broadway musicals of the past 10 years. Dear Evan Hansen the film spends nearly two and a half hours making this fact read like an onion headline.
The film adaptation is all the rage with other recent Broadway adaptations, but we would all have been better off if someone had crated this movie and shipped it to that warehouse at the end of The Raiders of the Lost Ark. At least, Dear Evan Hansen is an abject disaster, the Driving Miss Daisy of mental illness movies mixed with everything that would be the byproduct of Todd Solondz sleepwalking in an abandoned studio and directing a black Disney Channel original film.
The six-Tony Award winning stage show probably did a better job of masking the deep discomfort of the worthy plot with its cheesy showy tunes and competent staging. The film moves forward, groping for any sort of creativity or commitment that succeeds on stage. Ben Platt, who won a Tony for the lead on stage, looks back at the teenage character who made his career, and it could be one of the worst casting choices since Adam Sandler decided to dress in. drag to play her own twin sister in Jack and Jill. No matter how hard it is to disguise Platt’s age (27), they turn on him in fury. On top of that, his performance is overworked and distracting – all sort of momentum the film tries to create exhausted by Platt’s over-action. It’s like we gave Garfield the cat 12 pixie sticks and asked him to do Shakespeare.
The film oscillates between grotesque and exhausting. Director Stephen Chbosky directed deeply moving teen drama in stunning 2012 film Charlie’s world. Dear Evan Hansen is the antithesis of this film. While Wallflower told a relatable story about teenage struggles and didn’t think twice about these struggles for schmaltz, Hansen tries to be inspired by a confusing plot. The main character – and the script itself – doesn’t understand that once you go to certain places, you can’t come back.
On the other hand, it could have been a powerful warning about how destructive mental illness can be among the hyperconnected young people of our country. The premise involves a shockingly undeserved musical number from Evan himself that goes viral as an inspiration for those struggling with depression, anxiety, loneliness and more. Filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait portrayed a similar gloom with the 2009 Brilliance The World’s Best Dad, a story of deception after similar tragedy that constantly recognizes how gruesome its story is and still manages to find some kind of empathy for its deeply flawed protagonist (still among Robin Williams’ best performances). Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t know how to balance the weight of Evan’s actions with the excuses he’s taking them for.
If you listen to some of the songs without considering the film’s faltering morals, you might rightfully experience a fleeting sense of upliftment. Yes Dear Evan Hansen helps at least one person with mental illness, then it is worthy to exist. Mental illness is an epidemic in many of our communities, and as the film postulates, there are people out there who will love and support you regardless. You will be found, but obviously being found is just the start of a very difficult journey that this movie doesn’t even vaguely recognize.
People living with mental illness can live happy, fulfilling, fantastic lives and have wonderful communities that support and help them along their journey. This movie tries to connect the beginning and the end of this kind of journey without any acknowledgment of the medium, which of course is the most important part. An uplifting song and a few pat on the back don’t solve the terrible complexities of depression, anxiety, OCD, or any number of mental health issues. The film and the play fail to understand this.
By making mental illness the type of obstacle overcome in Katy Perry’s noxious hymn “Roar”, Dear Evan Hansen further cements itself as well-intentioned but grossly shallow and uncomfortably opaque. It’s one of the worst American movies I’ve seen in recent years and Cats looks like 1961 West Side Story. Listen to the music if you want, but leave this movie in the dust. It’s totally out of your time.