By Paul Hall
The new film Dear Evan Hansen focuses on some of the issues that exist for students in high school. We learn about Evan (Ben Platt), a boy with social anxiety issues in this coming of age musical drama. He is encouraged to do a daily journal entry as a letter to himself. Whatever he needs to say, whatever he needs to write — just put it down on the page. But when printing his latest entry, another boy finds it, setting off a series of events that Evan will never quite be able to comprehend.
That boy is Connor (Colton Ryan), and he is processing a variety of his own issues that unfortunately leads him to take his own life. Connor’s parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) find Evan’s note and assume a friendship between the two that in reality, never existed. But Evan, who has his own difficulties, perpetuates the lie as it offers closure for Connor’s family and a closeness he has never experienced. But can the lie go on forever?
Told for the most part in song, Dear Evan Hansen is the film adaptation of the Tony- and Grammy Award-winning musical. Platt reprises his role as Evan and delivers a spot-on singing effort. The music never wanes throughout the film. Unfortunately, Director Stephen Chbosky (Wonder, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) brings Platt’s performance forward in a manner that feels old and out of place. Although Platt embodied Evan, he, along with other members of the cast, appeared their actual age instead of the high school seniors they were cast to portray.
There are two things here that make this an amazingly worthy endeavor: the music and the message. I already touched on the music a bit. It is a soundtrack that will play in my head for a long time to come. Not having known about the stage show, I was enthralled by tracks rich with meaning and emotion. And the message was one that needs to be heard. It needs to sink in with parents and students alike: You are important. You are not alone. You can get through this. I know individuals like Evan and Alana (Amandla Stenberg), who is captivating. In writing about this film, I thought the best way for me to put my feelings together was in a letter to myself, so I wrote:
Dear Paul Hall,
Writing about movies is your passion, and you love what you do. Sure, at times you watch a movie that feels like a waste of time. Sure, sometimes you feel like what you do does not really matter. But then, there are glimmers of hope. They are bigger than film, they are bigger than you or me. Films that don’t just entertain. They engage viewers, encourage viewers and offer a great big hug to those who need it. When you encourage those who need a film to find a film — when you encourage those who need a message to find that message — when you share what you love with viewers who need love. It is on those days you are reassured. No matter what you will watch next, you may be able to help. You are not perfect, no one is. But you offer yourself, on the page, on the air and in personal chats every day. Those are the moments. Hold on to that.
And that, in a nutshell, is Dear Evan Hansen — Not perfect, but needed. Not every film needs to be a critical darling, some just need to connect. Dear Evan Hansen does just that.
Paul’s Grade: B-
Dear Evan Hansen
Stars: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan
Director: Stephen Chbosky