Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Dear Evan Hansen


Prescription medication aside, Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is advised to write letters addressed to himself to ease his bouts of depression and anxiety. When he does, he accidentally leaves one on the school printer which is eventually found by a high Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan). What should have been the start of an odd friendship takes an unexpected turn when their unlikely conversation becomes a cause of misunderstanding and Connor commits suicide with Evan’s letter found in his possessions. Mistaking it for a suicide note addressed to his only friend, Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Danny Pino) hang on to the letter believing it to be their son’s last genuine memory. Seeing how he can be instrumental in helping the family get over their grief, Evan crafts one lie after another until he gets entangled in an intricate web of deceit that spirals out of control, affecting all of them in ways that prove to be both beneficial and detrimental.

Much respect for Platt but as the online memes and backlash might have already told you, he is too old for this role. Many of the teenagers in the cast are not legit teenagers either but at least they look the part. Platt doesn’t. Rumor has it that his casting was a prerequisite for the film to be greenlighted, which any fan of the theater original will appreciate no matter what, but still wants to make you question why. Platt’s success has mostly been tied to theater and television. He is NOT a movie star, and this onscreen rendition of the musical that launched his career won’t make him one.

And this brings us to the next point. Musicals crossing over to film will not always be successful because theater is a niche artform somehow and loyal fans of the stage won’t necessarily be rushing to cinemas to see a subpar reimagining they enjoyed onstage so much. Even if they do, their numbers would definitely not be that huge to turn the material into a box office success. Having that in mind, the producers could have casted one of the current theater Evan Hansens instead. It wouldn’t have made that much of a difference in box office receipts, but they could have avoided the backlash that way.

If anything, what this film has accomplished for me personally is to revisit the soundtrack, which I did not really get to appreciate that much aside from For Forever. Unlike diehard fans, I walked into that Broadway theater with no idea what the material was all about. The film experience is quite different in that I was already familiar with the premise, which perhaps allowed me to focus more on the songs and gain a new appreciation for them, particularly Waving Through a Window, Requiem, and You Will Be Found.

One of the few songs that were omitted in the movie version is Good for You, which feels like a letdown because it’s an emotionally charged climactic turn in the relationship between Heidi (Julianne Moore) and her son Evan. If they don’t trust Moore to deliver vocally, she could have easily been dubbed a la Rebecca Ferguson’s Never Enough in The Greatest Showman. But perhaps the real reason is the film’s runtime going over two hours, clocking in at 137 minutes. It’s long enough as it is.

Despite all these shortcomings as well as the rather twisted storyline for those who are unacquainted, the brilliance of Dear Evan Hansen’s premise will always rely on its contribution to mental illness awareness. Whoever wrote this musical seems like he or she poured every other socially relevant theme prevalent in the teenage demographic into a blender and came up with a resounding soundtrack for it. Just about anybody can relate to this storyline.

Depression. Anxiety. Suicide. Grief. Many of these issues have been considered taboo in real life for such a long time, to be avoided as much as possible. Dear Evan Hansen shines a light on these topics. Perhaps less lives will be lost once we begin talking about it and normalizing the mindset that you are not alone and it is totally okay to ask for help.

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