The transition from the Broadway stage to the big screen is often detrimental to beloved stories, and Hollywood’s latest attempt, “Dear Evan Hansen,” is no exception. The film awkwardly fidgets between songs and stumbles in handling sensitive issues, leaving little chance for a standing ovation.
After making its Broadway debut in 2016, “Dear Evan Hansen” has received staggering acclaim from both audiences and critics, including six Tony Award wins for Best Musical and Best Actor in a Leading Role for star Ben Platt. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood seized upon this success and turned the beloved play into a slightly enjoyable but mediocre mess of a movie.
The musical is well known for its sensitive subject matter. It follows the overly anxious social outcast Evan Hansen as he fumbles his way into lying about his connection with former classmate Connor, played by Colton Ryan in the film, who died by suicide. The clumsy high-schooler, played by 28-year-old Ben Platt, searches for himself in the mess that he has created, and as he digs his hole deeper, the audience cannot help but cringe.
It is not until viewers come to know the supporting characters on a deeper level that the audience can find some proper satisfaction. In the midst of all the melodramatic musical numbers, the performances by Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Connor’s sister, and Julianne Moore, who plays Evan’s mother, are positive standouts that somewhat ground this otherwise misguided take on teenage depression.
As the cast skillfully sings and dances through the hardships of social anxiety and grief, it becomes clear that Hansen is an unlikable protagonist. Given plenty of opportunities to confess his lie to Connor’s parents, played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino, it is upsetting to watch Hansen continually escalate the situation to an inevitable implosion. Why would writers Steven Levenson, Justin Paul and Benj Pasek center their story on a distasteful character?
It would have benefitted not only the seemingly careless story, but also the deeply important messaging regarding teen suicide to focus the musical on Connor, the young man who was obviously the most in need of help. Where the film rankles audiences is exactly where it should: in the moments where it could have had a deeply engaging and empathetic examination of mental health, it turned to easy cop-outs and lazy attempts at crowd-pleasing.
While this is an overwhelming fault, there are moments of pure emotional release. No matter your opinions on Ben Platt playing a teenager, the guy can sing, and when his pitch-perfect melodies are met with the presence of likeable characters, the effect can be impressive. Through all of Hansen’s discomforting actions, there are just enough sentimental moments to occasionally win viewers over.
The debate about whether or not “Dear Evan Hansen'' should have stayed on the stage will be ever-growing. My advice? Going in with both eye-rolls and tissues prepared will be beneficial. Above all, though, the attention given to mental health struggles should never be ignored. For those in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and the UA Counseling and Psychiatric Services emergency line is 479-575-5276.
Arkansas Traveler Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Where to watch: Theaters