2021 is the year of movie musicals. The joyous “In the Heights” kicked off the resurgence in June followed by “Annette” and “Cinderella.” Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, “Tick, Tick… Boom!,” are slated to release this winter.
Amid this genre revival, a film adaptation of the Tony-winning sensation “Dear Evan Hansen” made the jump from stage to screen. After the massive success of “Hamilton” on Disney+, this seemed like an inevitability.
“Dear Evan Hansen” should’ve thrown away its shot — it’s unpleasant, problematic and has a cringe-worthy performance from a miscast Ben Platt.
Evan Hansen (Platt) is a high school senior who’s tasked by his therapist to write letters to himself as a way to help his social anxiety. His letter is taken by Connor, an outcast Evan barely knows. A few weeks later, Evan finds out that Connor took his own life and his parents have mistaken the letter as their son’s suicide note.
Instead of telling the truth to the grieving parents, Evan falls into a web of lies by saying he and Connor were best friends. The rest of the movie follows Evan untangling the web and finding himself — all through song and one clunky dance.
There couldn’t have been a worse decision than picking Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Wonder”) to direct this film. His wildly overrated “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was a masterclass in taking sensitive topics and absolutely fumbling the execution. He hasn’t shown any improvement and makes a mockery of mental health and teenage suicide.
What is the director trying to say when he portrays Evan as a pathological liar? Are people with social anxiety supposed to betray their loved ones as a coping mechanism? Everyone involved in this movie makes it clear they think the movie is saying something profound — it isn’t. The polarizing “Joker” had more to say about mental health than this dumpster fire.
It’s possible this story works better as a Broadway musical than it does as a movie. However, the goal of any movie musical is to work as a narrative feature. “Dear Evan Hansen” is not that. It features shoddy editing and a run time that feels never ending. Chbosky’s decisions are so odd, resulting in multiple unintentionally comedic scenes and others that are downright uncomfortable to watch.
An all-star cast can’t save this musical, either. This movie was doomed from the moment it was announced Platt (“Pitch Perfect,” “The Politician”) was reprising the role of Evan. At 27, Platt is simply too old for the role of a high school student. In an attempt to make him look younger, the makeup team somehow makes him look like a 40-year old man with slouching shoulders.
Evan is an unlikable character and Platt makes no effort in making him someone the viewer can root for. Platt’s poor performance is notable given his father, Marc, is a producer on the movie.
At this point, it’s just sad to see Amy Adams (“Arrival,” “Enchanted”) and Julianne Moore (“Boogie Nights,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love”) in bad films. Both of them are trying so hard — just like they did in the abysmal “The Woman in the Window” — but everyone and everything around them is such a let down. Someone give these talented women a good script and let them cook.
Unsurprisingly, most musicals are going to live and die on their music. “Dear Evan Hansen” has below average music. “You Will Be Found” is supposed to be the show stopping number but is mostly forgettable. The title track is upbeat and feels tonally off with the rest of the movie. Composers Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”) are responsible for the music of acclaimed and beloved musicals — this one is nothing to write home about.
In the opening act of the movie, Evan’s friend tells him he’s a literal disaster. He couldn’t have been more right. The insult serves as a warning to the viewers: if you choose to watch this movie, “you will be found” asking for your money back.
“Dear Evan Hansen,” rated PG-13, is now playing in theaters.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.