Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen Review: A Disappointing Musical Adaptation

TIFF‘s opening night film Dear Evan Hansen had all the right ingredients for a blockbuster, but even the extremely talented cast couldn’t it.

The adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical is one that is highly anticipated. It follows socially awkward high school senior Evan (Ben Platt, Run this Town), who finds it difficult to muster up the courage to talk to his crush Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart). Since his anxiety always seems to get the best of him, his therapist assigns him to write notes to himself titled “Dear Evan Hansen.”

When Zoe’s brother Connor (Colton Ryan) finds one of Evan’s letters, he takes it with him, believing Evan is mocking him. Connor commits suicide shortly thereafter. When his family finds the letter, they assume Connor addressed the letter to Evan as he last words on Earth. Thus begins a journey as Evan steps into the lives of Zoe and Connor’s grieving parents—Cynthia (Amy Adams) and Larry (Danny Pino).

I really wanted this film to overpower the audience with emotions as the Broadway version did, but somewhere along the way, Dear Evan Hansen gets lost in translation. It seemed to fall flat in the third act when you most expect the characters to grow. Also, some of the songs feel forced at times.

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Unlike other critics, I don’t think 27-year-old Ben Platt is too old to play a high school senior. In fact, he sinks into the role and evokes sympathy for a character who’s trying to find meaning in his life. He hits the right notes and invites sympathy, to some extent, for Evan’s desire to belong in this world and be seen. The well-meaning PSA about mental health and anxiety comes across as genuine and heartfelt.

The characters, however, lack depth, and as much as I want to feel gut-wrenched at Evan’s plight and those who are suffering with him, the film doesn’t hit the right emotional notes. It feels superficial. The direction could do more to service the story. Musical adaptations are no easy feat and the film has a solid cast with actors who play their part to a tee. The performances alone are the reason to see it. Each of the well-rounded cast does his or her part to stand out.

Platt elevates with his pipes while Dever and Amandla Stenberg also give noteworthy performances to a crowd cheering them on. Nik Dodani, Evan’s best friend, is a clear stand-out with his dry sense of humour that sharply cuts through the highly emotional tones–the scenes in which he and Platt compose fake email exchanges between Evan and Connor is especially fun. Amy Adams and Julianne Moore add more nuance to their characters. They know what the roles demand and give us just that and nothing more or less.

Dear Evan Hansen, which has a timely subject matter, does feel like it missed the beat, but the actors vocals are reason enough gives it a watch.

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For a different take on the film, here’s our own Managing Editor Jason Gorber with HIS side of things. Let the review battle commence:

Dear Evan Hansen is in theatres Friday, September 24.

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