A film version of musical hit Dear Evan Hansen with original Broadway star Ben Platt at the helm proves to be a huge mis-step
“Can we try to have an optimistic outlook, huh?
Oh dear, it really wasn’t meant to be like this. Ben Platt has been intimately involved with Dear Evan Hansen since the start, taking part in every reading of the show through its eventual Tony-winning run on Broadway. So in some ways he’s the perfect guy to star in this cinematic adaptation, which just happens to be produced by his father, among others. But Platt is now in his late 20s, pushing at the limits to play a high-schooler, something director Stephen Chbosky acknowledges a little too blatantly with an almost Frankenstein-like treatment of prosthetics, make-up and filters that make him look like an android.
The other major problem is that this is a full-on adaptation of the musical, snatching us away from the suspension of disbelief of the stage to the harsh realities of a US high school drama. And without the fantastical flights of fancy that accompany the show’s theatrical journey – the transportative magic of Pasek and Paul’s soaring score, the ingenuity of David Korins’ digital-inspired set design – we’re left examining Steven Levenson’s reworking of his own book with much greater scrutiny and I’m really not sure that its use of suicide and mental health hold muster in this IRL context.
It was something that bothered me whilst watching the show, how much we’re asked to forgive of Evan as he exploits a schoolmate’s suicide for clout and kisses, and the manipulative way it demands absolution in the end because, y’know, mental health. And in the cold light of film, these issues are even more starkly problematic than before, as we’re drawn so much closer into the internal lives of these characters and specifically, asked to co-sign each and every one of Evan’s lies right to the faces of a family riven by grief. Is anybody waving? Yes, they’re trying to get you to stop.
It’s a real shame because there’s a strong supporting cast here: Amy Adams and Julianne Moore give good mothers; Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg and Nik Dodani give good friends; and Platt is a superb singer. For me, it would have made much more sense to reunite the Broadway cast and shoot the thing on stage a la Hamilton in order to capture what works so well about Dear Evan Hansen rather than this highly misjudged film.