Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

Reliving the full-blown pain of adolescence can be almost as uncomfortable as living through it. The painful attempts to connect or disappear are bad enough; the extra burdens of anxiety or depression make the teenage need to fumble towards an understanding of oneself and of the world feel downright impossible.

Dear Evan Hansen, The adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical directed to the screen by Stephen Chbosky is a close study of this discomfort: raw enough to make you crawl, bare enough to make you cry and designed to take you back immediately. to panic of teenage suffering.

The plot is almost creepy. It turns on the deeply anxious Evan Hansen, played by Ben Platt, who started the role on stage and became the youngest solo recipient of the Tony Award for Leading Actor in a Musical.

Evan starts the school year with a cast on his arm, clenched teeth – cheerful support from his mother Heidi (Julianne Moore), whose busy work schedule and night hours make her a reluctantly absent parent, and a new therapist who has given him a task: he must write a letter of encouragement and affirmation to oneself.

Through a series of random encounters, the letter finds its way into the hands of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan, a standby from the Broadway roles), a child who almost vibrates with angry despair. (A fellow student devastatingly calls Connor’s black nails “very school-shooting-chic.”)

Two young men stand uncomfortably facing each other in a school library, one wearing dark clothes and the other in plaster
Chbosky told Vanity Fair: “[Ben’s] the understanding of the character is so complete and so deep. I could not imagine anyone else playing it. “(Delivered: Universal)

When Connor dies of suicide, his grieving parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) ​​discover Evans’ letter among their son’s belongings and assume the two boys were friends. Evan, anxious and a little desperate for connection – and still recovering from his own suicide attempt – leans into the lie.

There is ample opportunity for Evan to retire, but the Murphy family is attentive and friendly, and their daughter Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) happens to be one Evan has been in love with for years – so he doubles down.

It quickly becomes difficult to see as Evan recruits classmate Jared (Nik Dodani), a friend of the Hansen family, to make a series of fake emails between Connor and Evan. When their classmate Alana (Amandla Stenberg) organizes “The Connor Project” to raise awareness for young people struggling with their mental health, Evans’ lie is at the heart of it. He becomes inspo-viral, the Murphys almost adopt him, and the more Evan talks about Connor’s hidden depths and relaxes in his guard around the family, Zoe falls for him.

But how far can this lie actually extend?

The film is written by Steven Levenson (Tick, Tick… ​​Boom!), And based on his script for the stage, the film makes room for the audience to cry – and hopes you cry so much that you forget to question its premise.

A couple in their 40s are sitting and looking gloomy with their hands folded in front of them in a principal's office
Adams first saw the musical on Broadway in 2019 and knew right away that she wanted to be a part of any potential film adaptation.(Delivered: Universal)

This is helped along the way by the score, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman), creators of a harmless generic empowerment pop catalog that puts crying catharsis over depth. In fact, You Will Be Found, the backbone of the film, is The Greatest Showman’s This Is Me for audiences who are not yet ready to stand out from the crowd.

There is a bit of gravel to balance the film’s increased emotions, largely due to Chbosky. It’s an example of a director’s perfect fit for the material: this musical is in clear conversation with anxious teenagers getting older, like Chbosky’s own The Perks of Being a Wallflower (both his 1999 MTV Books novel and the 2012 film , which he instructed).

It’s a refreshing adaptation, and the story moves smoother and easier on screen than it did on stage – the benefit of a searching and compassionate camera to guide us into the messy plot.

Chbosky tackles the almost unforgivable story with sensitivity and attention to detail – close-ups focus on Evans’ nervously twisting fingers; the desperate curve of the lips – to ensure that the audience, as much as they can, feel with the protagonist.

As such, much of the film’s success rests on Plat’s shoulders: we can not be against him.

Dear Evan Hansen debuted on Broadway in 2016, where critics raved about Platts naked emotional performance, and the film lingers on Platts face so we can observe the actor’s commitment to Evans pain. Vocals were mostly recorded live on the set, giving Platt space and time to find his way to a song.

A young man with a broken arm in plaster looks worried, standing on a school stage wearing a tie
Platt, who received backlash for taking the screen role, told YouTuber Zach Sang that critics did not understand that he was the originator of the role. “If I were not to make the film, it probably would not be made.”(Delivered: Universal)

It’s one of the film’s smartest choices, because while Plat’s performance is exaggerated and influenced on screen (not helped by the fact that as a 27-year-old he looks much older than his character during filming), he is a superlative interpreter through singing; when acting through music, it feels as natural as breathing.

Songs detach from scenes like a gentle exhalation; it is the language of unspeakable fear, sorrow, and love. This is how the film hovers: Music is the least embarrassing of its emotional outbursts.

Levenson’s clever revisions of Broadway evoke the rough edges of the stage show, which used theatrical suspension of infidels to avoid discussing Evans ‘mental health with any specificity, and encircled the true damage of Evans’ lies – not to mention, treated its supporting characters carelessly. , leaving young women dangerously underdeveloped.

Now Evan is openly discussing his diagnoses and medications with Connor Projects founder Alana. The Anonymous Ones, a new number created for the film (written by Pasek, Paul and Stenberg himself), helps to deepen Alana’s character and to better explain her motives in committing to keeping Connor’s memory alive; she sees herself in him.

Zoe is also more clearly defined and compassionately drawn on screen, thanks in part to Devers’ complex performance, the film’s stand-out.

But her romantic relationship with Evan still feels signed and ill-considered. On stage, the relationship began much earlier and felt much more manipulative; it benefits from taking time on screen, but it remains an unpleasant element, as the deception at the center makes it almost unbearable to watch.

A teenage girl and a young man walk together through an orchard, stand awkwardly apart, but seem interested in each other
Platt told NME that he shaved his beard and lost weight to look “authentic” as a 17-year-old in the film.(Delivered: Universal)

The score has been cleverly trimmed (in a well-established musical tradition, fragments of songs that have been cut have been recycled into the cinematic world, now played by the school’s jazz band in an early pep rally scene) and other clips ensure that we keep focusing most on Evan, and that music – the language of every musical’s soul – always swells with his pain.

But what about Connor, the boy remembered through Evans’ fantasy friendship?

For a story that examines what happens when a tragedy is used for personal gain, Dear Evan Hansen often fails to listen to his own warning. While Connor finally gets a new own song for the film, sung sweetly by Ryan, he is still more of a catalyst than character.

It’s easy to forgive Evan, who we know inside and out when we barely understand Connor at all. This is the fundamental problem that both the film and the scene show before it can not solve: how can it investigate the reprehensibility of Evans’ actions and at the same time ensure that we still love him? How can it maintain its message of caring for all when it forgets to take care of the boy who died?

Although we spend much more time on Evans’ emergence and redemption in the film than we do on stage, we still slip past the fallout, Evan and Murphy’s suffer, once the lie is final, inevitably revealed.

But dear Evan Hansen is on her way to another place: to a big warm hug of an end. It’s nice and sentimental; we are left with a tear puller for the sake of tears.

It’s hard not to feel manipulated.

A 60-year-old woman holds a young man close with her eyes closed
Platt told Vanity Fair about the film’s “extended third act” release arc. “We’ll get to see a little more of … the work he’s doing afterwards to rectify.”(Delivered: Universal)

Still, you may notice that it pulls in your inner teenager. And it’s not hard to imagine that young, lonely viewers will find this film an outstretched hand they can squeeze for comfort – a reminder that as Heidi sings for her son when the sky falls, the thing that feels for great to carry, one day “everyone feels so small”.

For those who need to hear they are worthy of love, the film provides. For those who want a satisfying, fearless story, a meaning behind all the tears, it does not.

Dear Evan Hansen is in the cinema from 9 December.

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