From Broadway to Hollywood
Whoa! The critics have been all over the place with this movie version of the smash Broadway, Tony-winning, dramatic musical Dear Evan Hansen. We did not see the stage version, so when it was revealed the plot is about a teen-age suicide and mental health issues, I was prepared to run the other way. Not themes to make a happy-go-lucky musical methinks. What? No Fred Astaire-type dancing, sequins, and Busby Berkeley sparkling arrays of chorus girls with their legs in erotic high kick rhythms? Not for me, says I.
So naturally, I was prepared to hate the film merely for its theme and from hearing that star Ben Platt was too long-in-the-tooth at 27 to play a teen-ager. That is not unprecedented because the “kids” in Grease all looked like they were 40 and certainly not 17. Only Eve Arden looked younger than most of the “teen” cast, and she was 70 at the time! So, I forgave Platt for reproducing his Tony Award-winning role on screen. He is, by the way, excellent. He had a lot of practice by doing it on stage about a million times.
Evan is a very shy boy, almost afraid of his own shadow, to use a cliché. He does have one close friend named Jared (the amusing Nik Dodani) who is honest and speaks his mind to Evan when he’s being stupid. Evan suffers from what is clinically called Social Anxiety and has a hard time relating to other teens. He wants to be popular but is simply a flop when trying to relate to the other kids.
Evan writes a therapeutic letter about himself explaining his psychological problems that is only to be used and seen by himself. A boy in school named Connor Murphy, (the very talented Colton Ryan) whom he barely knows, is more troubled than he is and sub sequentially steals the letter Evan wrote to and for himself. This leads to untold problems for Evan as time goes on.
In a fantasy sequence, Evan and Connor are seen dancing and singing together to “Sincerely Me,” the best song of the entire score. The rest of the songs are forgettable and terrible. Not one is memorable or even a tune anybody will sing. Blame composers Justin Paul and Dan Romer. Yeah, yeah, they won a Tony for Best Score from people with tin ears. Where is Irving Berlin when we need him?
Connor, who signed Evan’s broken arm cast, eventually commits suicide. All the kids at school automatically think they were best friends. Not true, but Evan is more or less trapped into going along with the myth to appease Connor’s parents ( the excellent actress Amy Adams, 47, and the handsome Hispanic-American actor Danny Pino, 47). Connor’s sister Zoe is sourpuss actress Kaitlyn Dever, 24. All of Evan’s lies and pretensions lead to dire consequences.
The issue of teen mental health is a serious issue, and it is treated with care and sympathy. It brings an awareness to audiences who may not be familiar with the facts and presents it with care and thoughtfulness. Adams and Pino are wonderful as the wounded parents of a very troubled boy in Connor.
I went in not wanting to like the story, but it engaged me as we got into the film. Ben Platt certainly deserved all the accolades he received on Broadway. It’s quite possible he could be in the running for an acting Oscar® for this film. Go see it.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language, and some suggestive reference.)