Cast: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan. Directed by Stephen Chbosky.
Coming into the world with a fair amount of vitriol and a hefty dose of internet meme-age might not be the best way for one of 2021’s big musical films to entire but that’s the way that Dear Evan Hanson has come to the world.
The film follows Evan Hanson who become the center of a story of hope when a therapy assignment letter he wrote himself is found on the body a troubled schoolmate who committed suicide, prompting people to find hope in his message of discovery.
The inherent issue with the film comes from it’s story, Hanson lies to everyone about his relationship with the now-deceased Connor. Contrivances put in motion the idea that Connor and Evan were actually close, and perhaps blinded by shock, grief or a desire for a happy outcome people buy into these letters / emails as a message of hope.
The portrayal of Evan as a young man with mental health issues himself – social anxiety, depression – feels entirely surface level and used as a means to justify the massive betrayal of trust that he commits.
Much has been said of Ben Platt’s casting, having won a Tony for originating the role, the 27 year old raised eyebrows for his casting as a high schooler. It reminds us that film, unlike the theatre, is a very literal medium and much like Cats doesn’t allow for that suspension of disbelief. Platt is a likeable screen presence, his turn as Benji in Pitch Perfect proves as much. But, his layers of make-up and all too stage-y performance bring attention to the fact that he likely got the role because his dad produced the movie.
Stephen Chbosky, director of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Wonder is also an odd choice, his style is much more indie and drab, which makes the random singing feel out of place and a little forced. No musical number really hit until the famous You Will Be Found, it feels like the whole film is built around this big anthem and the other songs just exist because it would make no sense to have one random song.
That said, the supporting actors are all superb, both Kaitlyn Dever and Amandla Stenberg are both solid and bring emotional warmth to the whole film. It’s the adults though that keep the film from falling apart under the weight of everything. Amy Adams and Danny Pino as the deceased’s parents manage to convince you that there is a genuine loss at the heart of the film, while Julianne Moore’s solo is one one of the most heartbreaking things she has done for a while.
The film doesn’t hold together, and at 137 minutes, it drags and probably won’t hold strong for those who don’t already have a strong connection to the musical. It’s an strange entity that can’t quite justify it’s own existence and does no favours to its leading man who deserves better to showcase his talents.