I obsessed over the musical Dear Evan Hansen the moment it hit previews on Broadway. I downloaded every available song clip, started following Pasek & Paul, and hovered over the last minute ticket availability. My face is on the posters they plastered outside of the Music Box Theatre and used in online promos. My daughter is even a part of the virtual choir they assembled for “You Will Be Found,” featuring submissions from all over the world.
We saw the original broadway cast perform on Broadway the night before seeing the actors at BroadwayCon. The show was spectacular. When Ben Platt (Evan Hansen) sang “Words Fail” on stage – he was a blubbering, dripping, snotty mess. It was so powerful to witness. I don’t know what place he came from to deliver that scene eight times a week. I think everyone in the room cried along with him.
There’s always going to be a comparison when they take a book and move it to film, or a play into a musical, or a musical into a movie. We know this happens, even the creators anticipate it. So here goes.
Where it misses:
For starters, the opening sequence is sooo distracting. There is an attempt to share the emotions of a teenager with depression and anxiety getting ready for the first day of school. Instead I found myself wide-eyed and judgy especially at the quick camera cuts bouncing from the mirror to the window while Evan (so not a teenager-Platt) sings “Waving Through a Window.” I’m no stranger to musicals – I KNOW they are going to break out in song. But the awkwardness is oppressive.
And next I’ll complain that they left out a few of the best songs from the musical, including: “Anybody Have a Map?” This is a duet sung by the moms that importantly sets the tone for the very different, yet striking similar home lives of Connor and Evan. A reminder that we might be more alike than we are different.
There was an additional song added in and it did nothing for me. And they even circle back to it – so I completely missed what they were doing there. My favorite scene from the stage musical, “Words Fail,” again, takes place around the dinner table. But this isn’t that shared theatre experience. While Evan is crying, literally sobbing, and pushing through the words, we maybe start to feel something. But then, the camera shows us each family member responding, rather than allowing us to sink in with him. It was just incredibly cringey.
Where it hits:
Connor, played by Colton Ryan is wonderful on screen, and we don’t see enough of him. Nik Dodani, (Jared), pretty much plays the same character he plays in Atypical, but he’s good at it. The “Sincerely Me” performance they share with Evan is enjoyable and witty and the best part of the movie.
There are a few touching moments. The “You Will Be Found” montage moved me. It’s such a powerful song – a universal, hopeful sentiment that reaches out to so many people. Many of us, especially in the teenage years, experience being in a dark place, being lonely, or feeling unaccepted. There are times when we just want to be seen, acknowledged, and heard. Like the original musical, the song comes together with different characters contributing a verse, and then a full chorus sends the anthem home.
While the messaging is genuine and deserves attention, it gets a little diluted in the film vs. the musical. The subjects of social anxiety, depression, fear of rejection/not being good enough, loneliness and suicide are all touched on. The role of social media – and how quickly someone can be elevated or attacked is truthful. However, there are no clear solutions or next steps, and very little accountability for Evan’s choices in the end. (They left out another song that would have helped here).
But there is a positive, less complicated takeaway. Dear Evan Hansen reminds us of our shared human connection. We really have no idea what people are going through, no matter what image they put out there. If we take a minute to see one another with empathy and compassion, rather than judgment or rejection, we might find a bit of ourselves in each other.