When it comes to criticism it seems DEAR EVAN HANSEN already failed. But the musical, based on the Broadway hit of the same name, has qualities at its core that the glittering surface sometimes thwarts. We reveal what these are in our review.
OT: Dear Evan Hansen (USA 2021)
Do you often think: I’m just all alone? Writing letters to himself – with this task from his therapist, the shy outsider Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is supposed to show himself how good his life actually is. But when one of these letters ends up in the hands of his classmate Connor (Colton Ryan), events take over and Evan unexpectedly becomes the focus of Connor’s family and his classmates. Completely overwhelmed, Evan is swept up in a whirlpool of emotionally stirring events that develop a frightening dynamic of their own and change his life forever. And finally he realizes that no one is alone.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is already a mega hit in the USA. At least the musical, which, like so many other musical success stories, began its triumph on Broadway. Many of these critically acclaimed plays later became films. And so does the story about a teenager suffering from severe depression who, due to a misunderstanding, becomes the focus of an Internet movement, which in USA has the title #You’re not alone carries. This is (among other things) about drawing attention to mental illnesses and appealing to people to move closer together to prevent loneliness and the feeling of being lost; to point out that you are “not alone” when you need help. Enriched with catchy pop songs and ballads written by the successful songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “Greatest Showman”) A target group-oriented appeal for a more peaceful coexistence emerges. Now the question arises: Why did Stephen Chbosky fall? (“Maybe better tomorrow”) did the staged film version of the material radically appeal to critics? The answer to this is easy to figure out. Why the discrepancy between press and audience opinion (on the online film rating portal Rotten Tomatoes the film currently receives a critic rating of 22%, while the audience is much more favorable to “Dear Evan Hansen” with a whopping 88%) is just as easy to see explain.
Larry Mora (Danny Pino), Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever) initially believe what Evan tells them.
A central aspect of the negative response, which comes particularly from those viewers who also know and love the Broadway version, is the casting of the protagonist. In “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Pitch Perfect” star Ben Platt plays the role of the titular teenager; And he is already 28 years old. Even though Evans’ exact age is never stated in the film, there is likely to be at least a ten year age discrepancy between the character and the actor portraying him. In the Broadway version, a teenage actor takes on the role of Evan Hansen. This casting may rob some people of the illusion that they are actually watching an adolescent student in his self-discovery phase. Nevertheless, Ben Platt delivers a more than solid performance here. His reticence, both due to his health and his character, is written on Evan’s face at all times, while he blossoms in the occasional dream sequences and also demonstrates his great singing talent. From a musical perspective, Ben Platt on “Dear Evan Hansen” is a gift. Precisely because he has an excellent voice, similar to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”, but still sings genuine enough to build intimacy with his character. So you never have the feeling that you are watching real professionals at work, but rather a story about outsiders and misunderstood teenagers who, true to the genre, sing every now and then to express their feelings.
“From a musical perspective, Ben Platt on Dear Evan Hansen is a gift. Precisely because he has an excellent voice, similar to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in ‘La La Land’, but still sings genuine enough to build intimacy with the characters.”
The, What the cast sings, catches the ear as expected and follows the catchiness of a “Greatest Showman” with its contemporary, radio-friendly beats much more than the here and there slightly less pleasantly composed pieces from “La La Land”; with a catchy tune in the middle section that particularly highlights the character of the film. In the Hugh Jackman vehicle, this song was called “This is me”. Here the power ballad “You will be found” fulfills this purpose and – regardless of whether you are more or less touched by the rest of the film – definitely gives you goosebumps. Around this musical centerpiece there are some numbers with chart hit qualities, which, however, also means that viewers with less pop music affinities may be far less impressed by it than those who can unconditionally be carried away by such a show. Which brings us to another central point that is particularly highlighted in the many negative reviews: the handling of the topic of depression among young people, in particular the associated suicide of the character Connor and everything that results from a simple hoax. Is it allowed to package a topic like this as a “show”?
Ben Platt was heavily criticized as the lead in Dear Evan Hansen.
Screenwriter Steven Levenson counters the misconception that the topic of depression should only be approached on a dramatic, devastating level in order to build a connection to the disease (“Masters of Sex”) not mounted. At this point a little insider tip on the side: The USA tragic-comedy TV series “The Mopes”, in which Nora Tschirner plays a personified depression, proves that you can approach the topic with a positive tone, as long as you do that The clinical picture is not glorified. Nevertheless, every now and then there is a tonal gap between the material, which sometimes makes you swallow hard, and the singing and dance performances presented. In particular, the already mentioned ballad “You will be found” appears at first glance more like an encouragement song put together from tear-off calendar sayings than a sincere treatment of the clinical picture. Nevertheless, this song – and with it the others – has a catchiness that is able to briefly press the right buttons with confused young people in order to encourage them to seek help. Here in particular there is no need for subtlety, but rather hopeful encouragement. And so it’s not for nothing that “You will be found” is the highlight of “Dear Evan Hansen” – simply because the creatives know how their target audience works. The possibility that this could also be irritated by the fact that the complexities of the story follow a questionable morality for a long time (a boy who was left alone during his life and always behaved antisocially towards his fellow human beings is praised after his suicide because another boy was him lying and portraying a heroic, friendly character), the script counteracts this a bit too late. Even if the lack of a happy ending – despite the overall feel-good production – sets a logical conclusion.
“The script counteracts the possibility that this person could also be irritated by the fact that the complexities of the story for a long time follow a questionable morality a little too late.”
As with his previous films “Maybe Better Tomorrow” and “Miracle,” director Stephen Chbosky was able to hire a star cast of Hollywood stars and newcomers for “Dear Evan Hansen.” Even in tiny supporting roles are Julianne Moore (“Still Alice – My Life Without Yesterday”)Amy Adams (“American Hustle”) and Amandla Stenberg, who is rising in her age group (“The Hate U Give”) and Kaitlyn Dever (“Booksmart”) to see big names who all dedicate themselves completely to the service of the film. Adams, in particular, surprises as the mother of a deceased teenager by allowing the greatest possible intimacy in her vulnerability, but always leaving open the possibility that she saw through Evan Hansen’s untruths from the start in order to consciously resist the truth in the pain. This narrative detail in particular highlights the shimmering questionability of the plot in many places. Because then it’s not just about getting rid of inconveniences with the help of lies, but also about how exactly such excuses can help you close yourself off from reality. And to some extent that is a suitable approach to dealing with depression.
Conclusion: “Dear Evan Hansen” is an encouraging musical aimed specifically at a teenage target group with extremely catchy songs and a clear message. The age of the main actor can be annoying, although Ben Platt actively counteracts this. And the script mostly undermines the sometimes questionable morality of the material with the help of details, but above all, the lack of a classic happy ending straightens out the somewhat crooked picture at the end.
“Dear Evan Hansen” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 28, 2021.
Attention: We saw the film in the original English version. We can therefore not give a rating for the USA dubbing!