Dear Evan Hansen Drama

TIFF Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ has Catchy Songs but Not Much Else

September 24, 2021Ben MK

What makes a good movie musical? First and foremost, you need to have songs that are memorable and catchy. However, it also helps to have a likeable and talented cast, a decent story, and, if possible, a powerful and moving message for viewers to take away. But while Dear Evan Hansen certainly makes a concerted attempt to check all those boxes, director Stephen Chbosky's highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical unfortunately comes up short in more ways than one.

A tale of one teenager's journey through depression, anxiety and unexpected notoriety, the film follows Evan Hansen (Ben Platt, reprising the role he originated in the stage version), an uncomfortably shy and lonely high school senior looking for a fresh start for the new academic year. Instructed by his therapist to write an encouraging letter to himself daily, Evan uses the exercise to muse about everything from his aspirations to his crush on fellow student Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever). But when Zoe's suicidal brother, Connor (Colton Ryan), takes one of Evan's letters and is later found dead with it, it sparks the beginning of a simple misunderstanding that quickly spirals out of control, as Evan's refusal to correct the mistruths about his and Connor's assumed friendship not only threatens to hurt Zoe and her parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino), but everyone involved in trying to pay their respects to Connor by raising awareness for mental health in his name.

On the surface, Dear Evan Hansen gives the impression of a polished Hollywood musical. However, viewers who find it difficult to side with a protagonist whose actions are clearly unethical and deceptive will no doubt take issue with the film's portrayal of its title character as a sympathetic figure. Add to this the all-too-obvious fact that 28-year-old Platt is simply the wrong fit for playing a 17-year-old, and the result is more of a musical misfire — a movie aimed squarely at narcissists and pathological liars, and nobody else.

Dear Evan Hansen screens under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 17 min.

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