**TW Suicide is referenced in Dear Evan Hansen and in this review as well**
Humans are social creatures and will go to great lengths to connect with one another. For some that process is easy and natural, but for others connection is a bit tougher. For others still, like the titular lead of Dear Evan Hansen, true human connection can only be forged by gaslighting the family of a deceased classmate.
Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is starting his senior year of high school having never really fit in with his classmates. His only friend only tolerates him because their families are close — a fact he eagerly reminds Evan of often, in cruel fashion — but mostly he spends his time alone. Although it’s never explicitly said, Evan suffers from social anxiety as evidenced by the pills he gobbles down sporadically, a vaguely referenced to therapist and Platt awkwardly hunching his shoulders as he navigates the screen. Things really change for Evan though when said therapist instructs him to write letters to himself.
“Dear Evan Hansen” the letters begin as their author tries to will himself into the type of person he has always wished he could be. Unfortunately for Evan, one of those letters falls into the hands of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), fellow outcast and older brother of Evan’s crush Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever). Before Evan can recover the letter that would so embarrass him, Connor commits suicide leaving behind nothing but a note in his back pocket that begins “Dear Evan Hansen.”
From the earliest moments, Dear Evan Hansen depicts mental illness in an overly simplistic light. Evan’s anxiety seems to wane and grow inverse to his popularity. It’s a fundamental flaw at the core of this film, one that asks viewers to empathize with a “kid” who invents a friendship with a dead classmate to appease his own sense of insecurity.
The “kid” part is worth engaging in as well. So much has been made about the 27 year old Ben Platt’s attempt to play 17, most of it valid as he looks closer to 37. There’s no secret that Hollywood high schoolers are often played by older actors, but rarely are they portrayed by ones who look so old. Every scene with Platt — which is most of them — is impossible to watch without the enormous distraction of his age. High school melodrama is very difficult to believe when the central figure of it looks like a 21 Jump Street reject.
All the reasons to cast Platt in the role facially make sense. His father Marc is a producer on the film and nepotism still runs deep in this industry. More than that though, Ben Platt won numerous accolades for originating the role of Evan Hansen on Broadway, but that run was 5 years ago and Platt 5 years younger. Aged out of the innocence of youth, Evan becomes a much more difficult character to forgive and empathize with.
Despite deep flaws, fatal too any chance a film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen had at success, the film isn’t wholly without flickers of redemptive quality. Most of the music is fairly catchy, even if they’re often misused throughout. Platt’s on screen awkwardness is only exacerbated by sharing that screen with an A-list cast of co-stars who are generally doing an admirable job in a tough circumstance. Kailyn Dever especially does a lot of heavy lifting here.
Even the fleeting moments that feel genuine and alive struggle to surface in a film so flooded with problems. Adapting to film a play that many at the time found problematic was a problem to begin with, casting a 27 year old stage actor to play the high school aged lead only guaranteed that Dear Evan Hansen would fail. Fail it did. 3/10