A broadway adaptation gone right?
Dear Evan Hansen: today is going to be a controversial day, and here’s why. The newest Broadway musical turned movie, Dear Evan Hansen, hit theatres last weekend on Sep. 23. The movie stars Broadway alum Ben Platt, who won a Tony for his performance in the show in 2017. The musical was very well received when it hit the stage in 2016, winning several Tonys, a Grammy, and an Olivier Award. However, the movie did not share the musicals’ smash success.
I want to talk about the casting. The creative team did a relatively good job with most characters: Kaitlyn Dever and Amandla Stenberg convincingly played teenage girls, Zoë and Alana, respectively. Amy Adams and Danny Pino also did a great job embodying the emotional parents of Connor, the young boy who takes his own life in the film. However, they were on thin ice when the casting directors chose to keep 27-year-old Ben Platt as 17-year-old Evan Hansen. This decision, quite obviously made due to his success in the Broadway role, seems like a recipe for success, right? Wrong. I would argue that this process was not as smooth as originally expected. With film, actors can get up close and personal with the camera — the audience’s point of view. I think this explains why the older cast was so jarring — heavy makeup and Platt’s habit of having exaggerated facial expressions are better suited to a Broadway performance. If they had used less makeup to compensate for the age gap and had Platt minimize his stage acting, it would have been a much better and less off-putting experience for the audience.
As for the music, the team on this film really impressed me. Although Ben Platt’s casting was controversial for me (and a number of other film critics), I thought his singing performance was phenomenal. I do not know too much about vocal techniques, but I could listen to him sing those songs all day. It was also great to hear actors who I had never heard sing before. My favourite performance came from a less minor character, Colton Ryan’s Connor Murphy. His dancing and singing in “Sincerely Me” had me giggling the whole time, and I was ready to jump out of my seat and join him.
Moving on to the plot. I was not the biggest fan of the concept, but considering the message the filmmakers were trying to express, I can understand why it resonated with its audience. I thought they did a pretty good job at making the audience understand that no one is ever truly alone — honestly, it made me a little weepy at times. Often, the movie was hard to watch: by this, I mean that I sometimes found it unbearable. Seeing Evan lie to the mourning family… think a full 15 minutes of second-hand embarrassment. The scene where Evan sings “For Forever” at the dinner table is… manageable. Then the (fake) emails that allegedly confirmed Evan’s and Connor’s friendship were more comedic than serious, allowing the audience to forget what he was doing and how that might affect Connor’s family. But by the last few lying scenes with the sister, Zoë, or with Evan’s own mother, I understood how big this lie had gotten, and could hardly watch anymore.
I guess you could say that the plot was truly unpredictable because I genuinely had not a clue as to how they would wrap up the movie. Unfortunately, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. By the third act, the audience is asking themselves, “how on earth are they going to make anything good come of this?” Maybe they pulled it off, as the message at the end was rather sweet, with a decrepit orchard being refurbished in Connor’s memory. However, to me, the ending felt stagnant. Nobody truly paid for their actions or mistakes, and everything just sort of fizzled out. With a plot this complicated and emotionally charged, there were not many more directions they could take it.
There were some discrepancies between the film and the original musical. From friends who watched both, I understand that the movie was able to develop certain characters a little more, like Alana, the student council president. From this, I also get that they added her song, “The Anonymous Ones” in for the movie and removed certain songs from other characters, like the so-called ‘mom song,’ “Anybody Have a Map?” Instead, they had the actors speak the story instead. It is also my understanding that in the original, the father of Connor Murphy was his biological father, but they decided to bring in the blended family story upon casting Latino actor Danny Pino as Larry. I think this was a good choice, as it diversifies the storyline a little more and allows more people to feel represented in the characters.
All and all, I think the movie was as good as it could be with the incredibly high expectations they had to meet after the tremendous success of the Broadway musical.