Dear Evan Hansen Movie Review
Can you enjoy a musical when you don’t like the music? Dear Evan Hansen answers with an unequivocal “no,” though of course fans of the award-winning stageplay will generally enjoy this comedy-drama about suicide, white lies, and personal growth--even if it isn’t exactly the kind of musical begging for a big-screen adaptation.
But really, the music sort of sucks in this one.
While I waffle on my appreciation for musicals, I typically enjoy loud, energetic, and highly creative song numbers and veer away from the “singing sentences” variety (“I could be saying this sentence normally but instead I’m slightly inflecting my voice to make it sound like music!”). Dear Evan Hansen falls somewhere in the middle, but not a single song is particularly memorable or enthralling. As a result, it’s hard to find much reason to praise such a production that, in movie form, feels 30 minutes too long and trapped between genres and formats.
Speaking of which, Ben Platt takes on the title role that he originated on Broadway, for which he won a Tony for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Platt knows the role inside and out, of course, and does a fine job, which is my way of saying he could have been worse, he could have been better.
But, truly, I’m not sure if the issue is with Platt, or the cast overall. Platt is first and foremost a Broadway actor, which demands a certain style of acting which doesn’t always perfectly translate to film. Juxtaposed against the likes of Oscar winners Julianne Moore and Amy Adams, the differences are more pronounced and jarring. But again, I’m not sure if the issue is with Platt--one could just as easily argue that the big names are the ones out of place. Neither actress is particularly challenged by the material, and Adams especially is grasping for an emotional presence that simply isn’t there.
While I wouldn’t propose the musical Dear Evan Hansen drop the music (well, I would, because the music ain’t that great), there’s something innately powerful about the core story. I’m not a huge fan of stories where the main character lies to everyone out of the goodness of their heart, forcing a big reveal at the end, but one could picture a pretty captivating, non-musical drama pretty easily. One that deals with suicide. Depression. And white lies that turn into big lies.
Dear Evan Hansen isn’t that movie, however. It deals with serious issues, but in film format those issues are poorly balanced with the more comedic elements and drab musical numbers. The movie is meant to be an emotional journey, but it lacks real emotion.
Despite all that, the movie isn’t a complete loss. The story is moderately compelling, and despite my complaints about casting, Kaitlyn Dever as the quasi-love interest nails her role. When I saw the play a couple years back, I walked away with similar criticisms, but my general consensus was “I didn’t love it, but it was moderately entertaining.”
The same can be said about Dear Evan Hansen the movie: it’s moderately entertaining, but in the end, if you don’t like the music, you can’t enjoy the musical.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.