Dear Evan Hansen Review: An Awkward Mess of Emotional Manipulation
Dear Evan Hansen might be beloved to specific segments of the theater-going public, and perhaps they will enjoy this adaptation, but standing on its own, it's an awkward mess that comes out extremely emotionally manipulative.
Dear Evan Hansen was the musical five years ago, but it was one of those musicals that no one really knew what it was about. It wasn't until the big-screen adaptation started to get some significant attention that the mainstream public began to find out exactly what kind of musical they were walking into. This is far from the first time that a musical has tried to handle some very heavy material, and this is far from the first time they have fumbled it as well. RENT mishandled the aids epidemic pretty poorly, and now this musical is here to mishandle teen suicide and mental health. For a musical that is supposed to be empowering about mental health, they use several dangerous terms full of stigma within the first ten minutes.
Then there is the miscasting of Ben Platt, who played the character on stage. However, five years is a long time, and our late twenties are when we start to show some effects of aging. Platt is no exception, and he isn't believable as someone who is a teenager. His mannerisms to make himself look small are over-exaggerated, and while that works on stage, where everything needs to be big, on film, it just looks awkward and draws attention to him. The more attention that is drawn to him, the more you can see the little bits of wrinkles or aging that make him look so out of place. Platt has one hell of a voice, and he nails every single song, but on film, it just draws your eye in a way that isn't good for the overall production.
The cognitive dissonance between the songs and the lyrics compared to what is happening on screen might be why this show has so many fans despite having such a messed-up premise. Broadway is extremely limiting when it comes to who can actually afford to go and see shows in person. Yes, when they go on tours, more people might be able to afford to see them, but that is still highly limiting. However, what isn't limiting is the cast recording, which is something almost anyone can afford. A song like "You Will Be Found" could be extremely empowering when you're not listening to the context of the entire production. However, in the context of the production and in the movie itself, it comes across as emotional manipulation because it is about a suicide victim and a total stranger putting words into his mouth. Fans are already so attached to the meaning behind the songs in Dear Evan Hansen and how it touched them that the juxtaposition just doesn't matter or doesn't register once it's put into proper context.
To get into that, we need to switch to some I statements and get personal. When I was a year or two younger than the characters in Dear Evan Hansen, I tried to overdose and kill myself. I sat down in my room one day and took 100 ibuprofen and Tylenol. It was planned, we found out later I was having a very bad reaction to Lexapro, and there wasn't even some sort of event that made me want to do it. I just wanted to die. I eventually told my parents, who drove me to the ER, and the next few hours became a blur of getting my stomach pumped [because high doses of Tylenol can damage your liver, so they had to make sure they got it all out], a lot of throwing up, and eventually getting charcoal pumped into my stomach. Since then, I have been suicidal enough for hospitalization once and probably should have been hospitalized a handful of other times. As a suicide survivor and someone with mental health issues, the mere idea of a total stranger putting words into my mouth should I have succeeded that day makes me physically ill. That's a 'me' thing, though, and a blindspot when it comes to Dear Evan Hansen, so that is why this is a movie that really hit me in the worst way.
Because at the end of the day, the only mental health that Dear Evan Hansen really seems concerned about is the mental health of Evan himself. Nothing about Connor until the very end, and even then, it's a small moment. Nothing about the family's mental health or how this could have taken away the tiny sense of closure they had when it came to the loss of their son and brother. Nothing about the other students' mental health who were inspired by a lie either in person or online. The only person who gets any sort of concern is Evan, and while he is the main character, the fact that he doesn't seem to really suffer any consequences for what he did just makes the entire thing end on a bad note.
Dear Evan Hansen is yet another adaptation of a musical that stumbles right out of the gate by making some very basic adaptation errors. Fans of the musical have been telling others that all of this reads differently on stage, and maybe that is the base, but that doesn't stop the movie from being a mess. The odd casting, the medium of film drawing more attention to the flaws in the overall story, and how emotionally manipulative the few moving moments feel just kneecaps the entire production.