Dear Evan Hansen Review

Dear Evan Hansen
Socially anxious high-schooler Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is charged by his therapist to write encouraging letters to himself. When one of these letters is mistaken for a suicide note from depressed teen Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), Evan starts to fabricate an entire friendship to help Connor’s grief-stricken parents (Amy Adams, Danny Pino).

by Ian Freer |
Updated on

If you get to the end of the closing credits of Dear Evan Hansen, you will find the kind of useful helpline messaging usually reserved for a particularly serious episode of Hollyoaks. Despite being filled with catchy rock-pop bops and ballads from the La La Land-The Greatest Showman pairing of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the 2016 Broadway juggernaut – six Tonys, one Grammy – works through a nexus of millennial hot-button topics, flitting between anxiety disorders, abject loneliness and the corrosive need to be popular fuelled by social media. Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation tackles these ideas with sensitivity through a clutch of great tunes, by turns funny and touching, but emerges too dramatically inert to truly satisfy.

Dear Evan Hansen

High-school senior Evan (Ben Platt) is a pathologically shy loner, on prescription drugs, in therapy and so unpopular no-one signs the cast of his broken arm — even bestie Jared (Nik Dodani, funny) refers to him as a family friend. Part of his therapy involves writing letters to himself to gee himself up. One missive is stolen by depressive, aggressive student Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) and, after he takes his own life, is taken for a suicide note by his parents — mom Cynthia (Amy Adams) and step-dad Larry (Danny Pino). Rather than set them straight, Evan doubles down on the misconception, spinning lies about his close bond with Connor that ingratiate him into the family and eventually see Evan go viral.

When it moves away from the music, Dear Evan Hansen feels on less certain ground.

As a musical, it’s a collection of strong songs that emerge directly from character. The opening number, ‘Waving Through A Window’, Evan’s paean to teen alienation, sets the musical tone. Chbosky stages the numbers in domestic spaces (living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens) and presents them in unflashy coverage, giving the lyrical/emotional content centre stage, if little brio — Julianne Moore as Evan’s mother delivers her big song from a sofa. The best numbers try to do something different; ‘Requiem’, in which Connor’s family articulate their complex, different positions on the tragedy, is haunting, staged with a touch of Aimee Mann’s ‘Wise Up’ from Magnolia, whereas the Ben Folds-y ‘Sincerely Me’ is the most energetic, cross-cutting between locales as Evan doctors up email exchanges with Connor. When it moves away from the music, Dear Evan Hansen feels on less certain ground. The conflicts here are all internal not external (fine for stage musicals, less so for movies), causing the story to sag a little — it takes an age for Evan’s deceptions to be uncovered and when they do, it’s with a whimper more than a bang.

Still, Chbosky, writer-director of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, has a feel for modern teen dynamics and gets good performances from his younger cast. Kaitlyn Dever commits as Connor’s sister Zoe, who shared a broken relationship with her brother, and Amandla Stenberg gives depths to activist Alana, who leads a project to commemorate Connor’s life. Which leaves Platt, who initiated the role on Broadway, and gives a strangely stage-y performance; he also simply looks too old to be a convincing teenager (he’s 27). He’s strong in song, not so much elsewhere — much like the movie as a whole.

Dear Evan Hansen gives enjoyable, tuneful voice to important modern-day concerns but lacks the dramatic and cinematic chops to really take flight.
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