"Dear Evan Hansen" stars Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore, and Amy Adams. Released on September 24, 2021, the film is about a high school student's journey of self-discovery and acceptance.
The film is directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also directed "The Four Corners of Nowhere", "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", and "Wonder". It is based on the 2015 stage musical of the same name by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul. Do you ever feel like you're alone in the universe like you don't matter? Well, so is everybody else. This weekend brings us yet another music-filled extravaganza to sing along to, although this one, in particular, appears to be more sentimental than the thousandth version of "Cinderella". That's right, folks. We're getting out a box of tissues for this one. This is another musical that I wasn't familiar with until recently, but I was intrigued to see its film adaptation regardless. Mainly because of Chbosky, who helmed the fantastic adaptation of "Wonder", and the musical duo Ben Pasek and Justin Paul, the ones behind the crowd-pleasing "La La Land" and "The Greatest Showman". Those people on board proved to be a nice combination regarding the musical genre and the dramatic elements. But does it help the film reach the same heights as the other movie musicals?
The story follows Evan Hansen (Platt), a teenager who suffers from social anxiety and wonders if life would be better without him. He writes letters to himself per his therapist's request and asks other classmates to sign the cast on his arm to gain some friends. Evan's classmate, Connor Murphy (Ryan), discovered one of his letters and believed that he wrote it to provoke him, resulting in Connor committing suicide. After finding Evan's letter in Connor's pocket, many people, including Connor's family, speculated that it was a suicide note addressed to Evan and that they were closest friends. This misunderstanding leads to Evan going on a personal journey that teaches him the importance of acceptance. I enjoy films that deal with important topics because they remind me that they happen to many people every day. Not only that, but they also tend to inspire those who went through these challenges themselves. "Dear Evan Hansen" undoubtedly fits into that category. The film's exploration of youth suicide, depression, and mental illness will surely get people talking about what needs to be changed to prevent further tragedies. The biggest challenge it's facing, however, is exploring these elements through song. They don't want to make it too "happy-go-lucky" that it's insulting, but at the same time, they also don't want to make it so dark that it's unwatchable for their all-ages crowd. It's a mixture that could quickly go south if not handled properly, which happened to be one of the essential issues that the critics noticed while watching it, along with its portrayal of mental illness and casting choices. Understandably, the balance between musical elements and depressing themes was pretty jarring at times, but does that make it a bad movie? Absolutely not! As someone who hasn't watched the Broadway musical, I thought the film was an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. It displayed the difference between what you need to do to be accepted and what you want to do while packing a poignant punch with its storytelling and music. While it did take a bit too long to get the message across due to its two-hour-plus runtime, "Dear Evan Hansen" is a compelling and highly engaging musical drama that's powerfully relatable to people who went down a similar path. One of the most significant controversies surrounding the film was the cast. The film featured a 27-year-old Ben Platt reprising his Broadway role as Evan Henson, a high school teenager. I didn't care that much about the age difference as long as the actor's talent was good, and man, was his talent that good. Ben Platt delivered a healthy amount of charm and nuance in his character's awkwardness and internal struggle, and his singing was surprisingly superb. It's no wonder they decided to bring him back to play Evan again. The rest of the cast was also very talented in their roles, particularly Dever and Stenberg as Zoe Murphy and Alana Beck, respectively. Even Julianne Moore delivered a suitable performance as Heidi Hansen, Evan's mother. Stephen Chbosky's direction doesn't entirely come close to being as grand and realistic as his previous works, especially "Wonder". However, he never lost his touch in providing a mixture of comedy and heart in the dramatic scenes and musical numbers. For a director who hadn't directed a musical drama before, Chbosky didn't do too bad. The songs in "Dear Evan Hansen" proved that Pasek and Paul are still the musical duo worth remembering regarding the lyrics. The musical numbers didn't provide anything too far-fetched as far as presentation goes, but they did bring a sense of energy and emotion into these scenarios. Out of the songs featured in the film, "You Will Be Found" and "So Big/So Small" were my top two favorites, mainly because of the emotional impact they brought to the film's themes. By the way, I became an emotional wreck during the latter. I literally cried like a little kid during that sequence. No joke. I rarely cry while watching movies, but this became one of the few things that actually made my eyes water.
Overall, "Dear Evan Hansen" is far from a cinematic masterpiece, but it's still an incredibly heartfelt musical that showcases the talented cast and relatable themes. This is another film that reminds us that we are not alone. As long as we remember that and show our support for one another, we can all feel accepted into this world. Thanks to its solid cast, Chbosky's direction, thoughtful storytelling, and strong musical numbers, the film is a soul-stirring experience that earns its tears of joy. It's worth a watch if you're into feel-good movie musicals. Just make sure you bring a lot of tissues just in case.