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Anybody Have a Map? You Just Might Need One to Get Through This Version of DEAR EVAN HANSEN

The Tony Award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen, is unsettling and sorrowful enough. But add to it the Hollywood treatment, and it just becomes even more polarizing and reckless.

Evan Hansen is a senior in high school. Like one in three adolescents, he lives with an anxiety disorder. After his classmate Connor dies by suicide, Evan gets caught up in a web of lies and disinformation aggrandized by personal letters and a viral YouTube video.       

Ben Platt spent years developing and originating the role of Evan. By the time the show opened on Broadway, Platt was arguably best known to mainstream audiences for his role in the Pitch Perfect franchise. But Dear Evan Hansen proved to be a star making vehicle for Platt, earning him a well-deserved Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award.

And here is where some of Dear Evan Hansen’s film woes begin, which has very little to do with Platt’s age.

Having seen Platt perform this role onstage, I can say, without reservation, that Evan completely consumed Platt. Although the original script never revealed Evan’s diagnosis, Platt manifested Evan’s tics, posture, sweat, and tears. He portrayed Evan with an impassioned realness and vulnerability that was credible and dare I say, understandable.

But even a hardworking, uber-talented Platt is susceptible to the hubris that comes with a modicum of success and fame. Where his onstage Evan was raw and impressionable, this celluloid Evan comes off as disingenuous and dialed in. Everything that was praiseworthy about Platt’s stage performance is now marred by a self-assuredness that might work on a concert stage but totally misses the mark here.

Steven Levenson, who wrote both the book and screenplay, tries to resolve some of Evan Hansen’s problems by over-plotting and backtracking in the last act of the film. But his explanations feel more like a feeble attempt to assuage critics than anything sincere.

More problematic is the way Director Stephen Chbosky sugar-coats Connor’s suicide with cutaways and showy song-and-dance breaks. Suffice it to say that some of the conventions that worked onstage render cringe-worthy on screen.

Wanting to destigmatize conversations about mental health issues, particularly now, is admirable. But there is a flippancy in the way in which this Dear Evan Hansen film approaches its subject matter that could have far-reaching and adverse effects, and that is what is most disturbing about it. Buyer beware.

For another perspective, read Grace Niesel’s review of the touring production of Dear Evan Hansen that played the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2019.

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