'Dear Evan Hansen' review: A disingenuous representation of mental health

Still from Dear Evan Hansen (Image via Universal Pictures)
Still from Dear Evan Hansen (Image via Universal Pictures)

Dear Evan Hansen is a cinematic adaptation of a 2015 Broadway musical of the same name. The Broadway show became a stage-hit and won six Tony awards for its performances and heart-touching songs. Dear Evan Hansen's storyline is based on a book penned by Steven Levenson. It explores an underhanded attempt made by a socially anxious teen to fulfill his need for belonging.

Ben Platt, who played Evan Hansen on stage, reprised his role in the movie. Other eminent cast members of Dear Evan Hansen include Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Kaitlyn Dever, Colton Ryan, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, and Danny Pino. Despite being a sensational Broadway musical, movie director Stephen Chbosky failed to replicate its success on the big screen.

Dear Evan Hansen was released in theaters on September 24 and is now available on digital. The movie will be available on Blu-ray from December 7.

'Dear Evan Hansen' synopsis

The plot of Dear Evan Hansen revolves around a misunderstanding that soon spirals out of control. Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is a 17-year-old teenager suffering from social anxiety and feels ostracized from the 'normal' crowd. To deal with the issue, his therapist has advised him to write positive, encouraging letters to himself. When we first meet Evan, he apparently has a cast on his left hand due to falling from a tree.

On one not-so-fine day, Evan writes a negative letter to himself while in school and takes a print-out. The letter falls into the hands of another lonely and mentally ill teenager, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), who was there to sign his cast. Connor had a fight with Evan over the letter and did not give it back to him. A few days later, Evan receives the devastating news of Connor's suicide from his parents, who found the letter and assumed it was Connor's suicide note addressed to Evan. As a result, they believed Evan was Connor's only friend.

Evan didn't fight the false belief and even made up fake email correspondences between him and Connor, with the help of Jared (Nik Dodani), a family friend. With his parents mostly absent from his life, Evan finally felt needed and loved when the Murphys (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) invited him to discuss Connor.

As it turned out, it wasn't beneath him to spin a tale of lies to stay in that bubble. One of those lies was about him visiting Connor's favorite place – an apple orchard – where he fell and broke his arm. Not only did the grieving Murphy family buy all his lies, but they also started treating him as a replacement for a son they had lost.

Evan milked his presumed friendship with Connor for a lot of benefits. Whether he did it on purpose or not is an entirely different thing. With the help of Alana (Amandla Stenberg), who seemed to be the only person who cared about Connor in that school, and Jared, Evan became a social media star. The events also brought him close to Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), Connor's sister, whom he had had a major crush on.

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Amidst the stigma surrounding mental health, Evan's "You Will Be Found" performance at Connor's memorial went viral on social media. As anyone watching the movie might be expecting, Evan's duplicitous act does come to an end. The truth about the letter and Evan's nonexistent friendship with Connor shatters the Murphys and once again ostracizes Evan. Rather than focusing on the consequences of Evan's deceitfulness, the ending of Dear Evan Hansen focuses on his redemption.

What went wrong with 'Dear Evan Hansen' movie?

After the booming success of the Broadway musical, people were looking forward to the Dear Evan Hansen movie. However, the film was harshly criticized by critics. The two main points of contention were a 27-year-old Ben Platt playing a teenager and the long-drawn, superficial plot.

Adult actors playing teenagers is nothing new, but Ben Platt's portrayal of Evan Hansen looked unsettling. On stage, far away from the audience, the fine lines of a 27-year-old are not evident, but the camera is not as forgiving. Additionally, his hunched frame and unkempt hair made him look older rather than young.

Dear Evan Hansen movie portrayed Evan as a manipulative and devious character whose con is distasteful and seems unnecessarily prolonged. The movie does not sufficiently delve into the mental health issues it is supposed to represent. A deeper look at the scenes also reveals a wide range of inaccuracies bordering on insensitivity. For instance, as part of his redemption, Evan vows to learn more about Connor and finds a video of him singing in group therapy. Instead of maintaining discretion, he shares the video with everyone when recording it in group therapy itself is unethical.

The plot of Dear Evan Hansen has plenty of weaknesses, and the characters lack sincerity, but the audience ratings paint a more positive picture for the movie. Ben Platt's vocals definitely worked as a redeeming factor for the film, and it achieved its goal of being emotionally overwrought.

Edited by Yasho Amonkar
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