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Director(s): Stephen Chbosky
Writer(s): Steven Levenson
Cast: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandala Stenberg, Julianne Moore
Synopsis: Evan, an anxious and depressed teenager, gets caught up in a lie that will change his life forever.
I initially attached myself to the music of Dear Evan Hansen years ago. The beautiful songs and stories told became comfort in difficult times. I had always known this was a play first and foremost, but it was the incredible music that first drew me into this story. From there I began to get into the play, and while I could see the issues, I could also see the beauty of the story.
Now, with the film adaptation released, this story can be shared on the largest stage imaginable. People who would have never been able to see the original production of Dear Evan Hansen are now getting their chance to really step into the light of this piece.
At the forefront of the movie – just as he was for the play – is Ben Platt. Platt won the Tony for his role as Evan, and he brings that same otherworldly acting to the film. However, he does make some alterations which I thought were for the best. On stage, Platt had to be more aggressive in his songs as he was singing to an entire audience. In the movie, he is able to save that aggression for the moments that really need it, and it pays off in a more restraint performance.
He is able to bring so much pathos to the role of Evan through his incredible acting and singing, and helps really draw you into the film. His casting was a questionable one for some, but for me, I was glad that he was able to solidify this performance and give anyone who wasn’t able to see it on stage a chance to witness just how good he really is.
Evan is a role Ben Platt was born to play, as he has a profound understanding of him that cements himself as this character. You don’t have Evan without Platt, and I personally wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to play Evan. Platt’s age was never an issue, because when he begins to perform you forget everything about how he looks in the scene, and he magnificently slips into this role like a worn out pair of grey New Balances.
Aside from Platt, the rest of the cast is quite remarkable as well. Alana gets much more to do in this, and Amandala Stenberg was picture perfect casting. The addition of her song “Anonymous Ones” brings another level to the film, and I would love to see Stenberg pick up an Oscar nom for this song. Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe was another perfect casting. Zoe is one of the most fascinating characters of the entire film, and Dever’s rendition of “Requiem” was utterly breathtaking. Colton Ryan, Julianne Moore, and Amy Adams all were great in their roles as well, but just weren’t given as much to do as the others in this film.
Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower) didn’t veer far from the stage adaptation – as writer Steven Levenson included the same dialogue at times – but I’m actually glad he didn’t. Bringing a stage play to screen is always going to be difficult, because you have to ask if you want to be different or if you want to basically showcase the play for a wider audience.
Chbosky provides that window into what the play was like on stage. This might include some moments that don’t necessarily lend themselves to the screen all that well, but it’s faithful to the material at hand. Will this work for everyone watching, no, but for the ones it does work for, it should work in a pretty extreme way. The same way that it did for me.
There were a few changes made, however, I think all of the changes worked. I even think the film even went as far as raising awareness to some of the major issues within the play, with the biggest being the ending. The ending of the film is quite different than the play, and I am on the side that really enjoyed it. I thought it gave room for Evan to actually grow as a character rather than have him just move on from the situation.
Look, I know this isn’t a perfect movie for everyone, but it is for me. I am going to be honest, there is some bias reflected in my grade, however, as a critic we can’t always be a robot spitting out nothing but objective facts when it comes to a film. Truthfully, if that’s what you’re looking for in a critic, then maybe I’m not your person – which is okay – because I will always be open and honest when it comes to my feelings on a film.
When it comes to Dear Evan Hansen, there is a level of connectivity that attaches me to the story being told. I have always been able to find comfort in Dear Evan Hansen, as it has been my reminder when times get tough that I’m not alone; that no matter how I’m feeling I can always remember that today, I’m me, and that’s enough. Sometimes I can forget this, and those times can get rough. For a lot of people – including myself – I don’t think they hear that being yourself is enough.
The film does a remarkable job at relaying that same message that was able to touch the lives of so many people who saw it on stage. It culminates into a important message that is a reminder that you are enough, no matter what. It’s a movie that people need right now, and it’s a movie that I need right now.
So go see Dear Evan Hansen. If it’s something that doesn’t work for you, that’s okay, but, if this film can touch one of you the way it touched me, well, I think that’s what really matters.
Final: Dear Evan Hansen is everything I wanted, and then some. As I sat in an auditorium full of sniffles, I knew I wasn’t alone. And as I sat frozen in my seat in the end, I knew I had seen one of the most beautiful and moving movies of the year.
Ben Platt gives a stellar performance, and Stephen Chbosky is able to translate this play to screen in a commanding way. Look, I understand if you don’t love it, but, I do. No matter what always remember; today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why: because, today, you are you, and that’s always going to be enough. One of my favorites of the entire year.
2021 Film Rankings
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.