Dear Evan Hansen Review: Please Return to Sender

Dear Evan Hansen

When Dear Evan Hansen premiered first Off-Broadway and then on the Great White Way in 2016, it was called a tearjerker of a musical that expressed the importance of helping those with mental illnesses and helping outsiders feel welcome. While the film’s theme is about the importance of acceptance, not everyone will like Dear Evan Hansen because of its cringey plot. 

Dear Evan Hansen follows Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), a lonely outsider who makes a horrible mistake by telling a little white lie to the parents of a suicide victim. Unfortunately for Evan, the white lie spirals out of control and makes him a social media celebrity. However, instead of telling the truth, Evan continues with the lie because life is finally perfect for him now.

The big issue with Dear Evan Hansen lies with the way the film handles the tone-deaf plot. Admittedly, I’ve never seen the musical when it made its way to Los Angeles. Yet, the general reception of the musical was favorable. So why does the musical get a pass? Maybe the film lost something in translation, or maybe it just highlighted the material’s massive flaws. Nevertheless, the film is unsettling with the way it explores the unpleasant and cruel consequences of Evan’s choices in a (mostly) carefree way. Particularly in the way the film attempts to make excuses for all of Evan’s actions. Yes, we know he’s kind and a loser, but it still doesn’t justify his actions.

While it’s understandable why some people have issues with the story, so much of these things (lies notwithstanding) happen in real life. These characters and the film’s connection to the zeitgeist feel very real. It’s a testament to Chbosky as a filmmaker and his cast as well.

Dear Evan Hansen is unsettling with the way it explores the unpleasant and cruel consequences of Evan’s choices in a (mostly) carefree way.

Either way, even if the filmmakers had somehow made the material palatable, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Why? Because I still couldn’t shake the fact that Ben Platt does look too old to play a high schooler onscreen. While he did win a Tony award for it, he was only 23. While that’s still a stretch for playing a teenager, the theatrical nature of stage performances did help alleviate these issues. Feature films tend to include a lot of unforgiving close-ups, which highlight these issues. Some will argue about John Travolta and Grease, but Travolta did not look this old. Be that as it may, Platt still sounds amazing singing the songs that made him famous. As miscast as he is looks-wise, his singing chops make up for it.

At the same time, director Stephen Chbosky has continually proved his prowess in directing effective coming-of-age dramas, such as Wonder and Perks of Being a Wallflower. That’s the case here too. Despite all of the criticism of the film, Evan Hansen still has a good grasp on social media, cyberbullying, viral videos, and cancel culture and how it affects everyone.

Overall, Dear Evan Hansen‘s heart is in the right place. It hopes that the material could lead to some serious conversations about difficult topics. In retrospect, Dear Evan Hansen is basically this generation’s Rent. In other words, it’s another grossly overrated Broadway musical that appeared at just the right moment in time to capture the zeitgeist. However, these musicals also contained enormous conceptual and artistic flaws that people overlooked until the movie version came out. In the end, it may end up as forgotten as Rent.

Rating: 2.5/5 atoms

Dear Evan Hansen hits theaters on September 24th.

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1714 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.

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