By Sam Acosta
“Dear Evan Hansen” is a beautiful adaptation that brings the same big emotions that the original musical did. While some of the most popular songs are missing from the film, the story is still largely intact and communicated well. The new songs written for the film are also well written and well placed within the story’s narrative.
The movie follows Evan, a high school senior struggling with depression and anxiety, whose therapist has instructed him to write letters of encouragement to himself each day. One of these letters accidentally ends up in the hands of Connor Murphy, a troubled social outcast. Later, it is found out that Connor has committed suicide, and his family finds the letter Evan wrote to himself on Connor’s body.
Believing that it is a letter from Connor to Evan, they implore Evan to tell them about their friendship, desperately seeking some hopeful part to a life that seemed completely devoid of it. Evan, unable to cope with the social pressure and genuinely wanting to be a source of comfort to the family, fabricates a story of friendship between the two. As the lie grows, so do the eventual consequences of that lie.
This film has faced mixed-to-low reviews from critics while having consistently high reviews from audience members. Many critics are attacking primarily two aspects of the film: Ben Platt’s casting and the story itself. I want to address both of these concerns because I feel like these concerns are largely unfounded.
Twenty-six-year-old Ben Platt’s portrayal of high school senior Evan Hansen has been subject to harsh criticism by critics
Critics state that Ben Platt looks too old to be in high school and that it is uncomfortable to watch him pretend to be a student. Ben Platt was twenty-seven years old at the time of filming, almost a decade older than most kids in high school. I find this criticism to be extremely hypocritical, as this practice is not at all uncommon. Shows such as “Riverdale” or “13 Reasons Why” have consistently used actors and actresses in the mid-to-late twenties to portray high schoolers.
I would even argue that those castings are more uncomfortable and dangerous as they have created unrealistic standards for what teenagers should look like. All those actors portray characters that fit Hollywood beauty standards that have so toxically affected our society. Ben Platt didn’t do that. In my opinion, he more realistically portrayed a high school student than most other actors.
Secondly, some critics find the story too dark or unrealistic to be compelling or even admired. I feel like this is just an invalid argument. Do I think that the series of events stemming from Evan’s lie would actually happen in real life? Probably not. Do I see how things happen and understand the logical jump from event to event? Absolutely.
I see how Evan’s anxiety causes him to feed Connor’s family the fantasy they so badly want to believe. I can see how his loneliness leads him to attach so much to the Murphy family that he becomes reliant on those relationships, even though they’re ultimately built on a lie. Do I think he is morally right in doing what he does? Of course not, and the story makes that quite clear. Yet that doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with Evan or understand exactly where he is coming from emotionally.
The story takes us on Evan’s emotional journey but doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of his actions
Indeed, the music and story reach the very core of your emotions. From its opening number to its closing song, you will feel every emotion that the character does and learn not only about the characters but also about yourself. The topics of depression and anxiety are presented in a grounded, visceral way that doesn’t exploit them, as many modern films and shows have, but explores the practical and emotional realities of these struggles, albeit in a rather unrealistic story. Every song fits perfectly into the overarching story, without feeling like it’s simply music for music’s sake (which is one of my primary gripes when it comes to musicals).
On top of that, the acting is impeccable, with everyone pulling their weight and nobody lacking in ability. Their voices are also incredible, another incredible aspect of this musical that separates it from other musical adaptations. Most musicals take the same approach: whenever the music and singing starts, the world goes quiet, and it feels obvious that the singing was recorded in a studio after the fact. This movie doesn’t feel like that. It feels like every song is sung in the moment, which makes them feel so much more special.
This is a film that would be easy to rant about for hours (like we in the A&E section of Cedars did on our recent podcast), but what’s important is that you know that this movie is not what the critics and reviews are saying it is. It is a piece of art: It is emotional and raw and unique and something truly beautiful. If you have the time, go see this film. As one of the best Broadway musicals of the past decade, I have no doubt it will be one of the best movie musicals of the next one.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is in theaters now.
Click here to check out our podcast episode “Is ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ a misunderstood masterpiece?”
Sam Acosta is a Junior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an A&E writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper, and writing plays.