Dear Evan Hansen, the popular Tony award-winning musical, has been made into a motion picture. Fans rave about the soundtrack, everyone loves Ben Platt, and then the movie comes out and critics rail on it. Why the difference? What’s the disconnect? Listen, Dear Evan Hansen is not as bad as you’ve heard.
Remember when Cats did what they did? Now that was a cat-astrophe. With Dear Evan Hansen, it seems as if the story is the biggest offender. And on paper, yes, it is a hot mess.
Dear Evan Hansen Is Not As Bad As You’ve Heard
Enter Evan (Ben Platt), who is starting off his senior year, seemingly friendless, except for Jared (Nik Dodani), who makes it clear he’s a family friend. There’s a difference. Evan is awkward, nerdy, and taking a lot of medication, though we never really get a diagnosis.
After having a run-in with an angry Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), an outcast, but for different reasons, Evan thinks this isn’t going to be a great year after all. His therapist suggested he write letters to himself to essentially pump him up for the day. As he’s practicing that exercise, he prints off the letter on a shared printer at school and Connor finds it. When Connor sees his sister Zoe’s (Kaitlyn Dever) name (Evan has had a crush on her for a long time) in the letter, he thinks Evan is trying to embarrass him and angrily stomps off, taking the letter with him.
Evan is worried that Connor will share the letter on social media, but instead learns Connor has died by suicide. This is where things get shady. Connor’s parents mistakenly think that Evan was friends with Connor and Evan doesn’t correct them, but instead makes up fictitious details of their friendship, even creating fake letters Connor wrote to Evan.
Connor’s parents are grieving and are happy that Evan is sharing a new side of Connor they didn’t know existed. The question is did that side exist? According to Zoe, no. In her eyes, he was a horrible person. Through the lies, Evan becomes closer with the Murphy family, including Zoe, and they eventually start dating.
I’m sure you’re thinking this is all very disturbing. Oh, it gets worse. As many students faux grieve Connor’s death, a well-intentioned student Alana (Amandla Stenberg) teams up with Evan to create The Connor Project as a way to keep Connor’s memory alive. Evan goes viral when he gives a speech at school to help raise money, which is the subject of the hit song, “You Will Be Found.”
Eventually, Evan has to come clean, and the film gets even more sad and depressing, but sprinkled throughout are some light-hearted moments. It’s the music that ties it all in and evokes emotion. It’s hopeful which some may confuse as trying to gloss over important topics and discussions.
Evan doesn’t intentionally deceive the Murphy family at first. As someone who has anxiety and depression he just may not want to disappoint them. The Murphy family is counting on Evan to help them in their grieving process, and he doesn’t know how, so he tells them what they want to hear instead of breaking their heart even more. Is it cruel? Perhaps, but he’s also a teenager. A teenager capable of knowing right from wrong, but also one whose brain tricks him and tells him lies about himself, the same lies that Connor Murphy heard and thought.
I’ve watched social media convince adults of things that aren’t real, and for those that think that Evan received no consequences, guilt is a crippling consequence. I empathize with teens living their lives on social media right now. The pressure, the insecurity, the cruelty. As Olivia Rodrigo says, “it’s brutal out there.”
Ben Platt does not do Evan any favors with his age, and the piling on of makeup and close-up shots on his face were not wise choices. The credibility is questionable, but Dear Evan Hansen stage fans were calling for Platt. His voice makes up for some of the imperfections.
Dear Evan Hansen opens the door for conversations. And the soundtrack has pulled many fans out of a dark place. Was Connor ever found? No. There’s the irony, but maybe it can teach kids to be kinder, more sincere, perhaps give someone a reason to reach out.
I can’t judge the way the Murphy family grieved or the way anyone grieves. Dear Evan Hansen is not kid-friendly for young tweens due to the subject material, but I’d recommend it for teens. Dear Evan Hansen will resonate with many, and this is who the movie is for. You are not alone.