When Dear Evan Hansen first hit Broadway, it put Ben Platt on the map as the teenage nobody that just wanted to be seen. His career skyrocketed in the last decade and he went on to star in a couple of the Pitch Perfect movies and more recently, The Politician TV series. If Ben Platt became so popular on Broadway, why not cast him as the lead role in the film adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical. Even though today is his 28th birthday, the makeup department gave him these unkempt curly locks like a lot of awkward teenagers have when they don’t know what really makes him look good. If you have a hard time getting past how old Platt looks, just remember Hollywood has been casting older adults for high school roles for a century. Most notables are Stockard Channing, who was 33 years old playing a senior in another musical, Grease and Alan Ruck in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, who was 29.
In Dear Evan Hansen, Evan (Ben Platt) is a senior that isn't really sure if he's going to have enough money to go to college. Evan just wants to be accepted, but suffers from depression and anxiety and takes several medications. His therapist has suggested that he write letters to himself encouraging him that he is going to be alright and just to be himself. He decides to print out one of the letters that is addressed to him and is signed “your friend, me” and as he is going to get it, a troubled student named Connor (Uncle Frank's Colton Ryan) swipes it and reads it. When he notices his sister name is mentioned in the letter because Evan has affection for her, he becomes outraged and puts it in his pocket. Evan begs him to return it with no success.
Some days after, Evan is called to the principal's office where Connor's parents wants to meet him. They tell Evan that Connor Murphy has died from suicide and they found a letter that Connor wrote him in his pocket. As he is about to explain to them what happened, Connor's mom (Amy Adams) keeps interrupting him and invites him to dinner instead. She is hoping that she can hear wonderful stories of things that she never knew about her son. When Evan starts making stories up about their friendship, which never existed, he starts feeling the acceptance that he's been looking for all this time. Students start acknowledging him in the hallway and he's gets a lot of attention, almost more than he can handle. One of the students who also suffers from depression wants to do a tribute for Connor called The Connor Project to help kids talk about their mental health struggles. When it goes viral and gets too big, everything starts to unravel.
The music of Dear Evan Hansen is heartfelt thanks to songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who also is behind La La Land. Stephen Chbosky directs who is behind The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Wonder. The casting is exceptional, especially Amy Adams where you feel every single ounce of the grief that Connor's mom is experiencing, where she just wants something tangible to hold on to her son. Danny Pino (Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit, Cold Case) and Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) round out the mourning family. With all the intense and awkward scenes, Jared Kalwani (Nik Dodani), a family friend of Evan's, gives us the comic relief that we need. The graphics helped drive the stage play and this was lacking in the film, but the tear-jerking moments were there. Unlike a Broadway show, you feel the intensity of the scenes more with closeup shots as in this film. The transition from stage to screen is clunky with the musical. We are made to believe that the people singing the songs are actually just talking, but it's makes it feel like a performance instead. Even though it's an award-winning soundtrack that is beloved, I can't help but wonder how this film would be stripped of the music.
Ken's Movie Review Grading Scale
A - Superb and solid; a movie that will be etched in your mind 10 years from now
B - Good movie, so good in fact that you would want to see it again before it's out of the theaters; the story may drag in places
C - Average, entertaining at parts; you might want to wait and rent it
D - Lacks a lot from entertainment, plot, realism, development, etc.
F - Terrible and you will want to walk out of the movie; no redemptive qualities whatsoever