An honest and original story for those lost and then found.
Dear Evan Hansen is a 2021 coming-of-age musical drama film directed by Stephen Chbosky, written by Steven Levenson, produced by Marc Platt Productions and Perfect World Pictures, and distributed by Universal Pictures. The film is based on the 2016 musical, Dear Evan Hansen. It stars Ben Platt and Kaitlyn Dever. It was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
"Now we can both pretend we have friends." -Connor Murphy
High school senior Evan Hansen suffers from severe social anxiety and depression. When he begins writing letters to himself as an assignment from his therapist, one of the letters ends up in the hands of Connor Murphy, another unpopular and depressed student. When Connor kills himself, his grieving parents come to Evan with the letter that Connor stole. Thinking that it was written by Connor, his parents look to Evan for good memories of their son. Evan soon finds himself at the happiest he's ever been, even though it is all a lie.
Emotion and Story / Evan Hansen / Sincerely Me / You Will Be Found / Addressing Mental Illness / Setting Up Dominoes / Direction of Songs / Weight of Story / Screenplay / Unlikable Characters / Ending
I legitimately think Dear Evan Hansen is the saddest movie I have ever seen.
It's a pretty hard watch. There's a lot of very, very mature themes and ideas inside of the film, and, as a high schooler myself, I can relate to some of it. The film has a great story that just gets more uncomfortable as you go on. Every time Evan makes the wrong decision, you feel the lie spiraling out of control. Because of this, the film is very emotional. Since it's a movie that deals with suicide, it can just be devastating at times. I cried during the middle act of the movie and found myself on the verge of tears throughout. If you don't like a good cry, skip out on Dear Evan Hansen.
Evan Hansen is also a great character. He is really nuanced and complex, and, since the story is told through his point of view, you feel for him every time he goes down the wrong path. You understand why he's doing what he's doing and feel for him. He's a really relatable and layered character. I can't stop thinking of Evan as a non-evil version of Walter White. He has a problem that is fixed by doing something wrong. Albeit, Evan's solution to his mental illness is not to cook meth, but it is to lie to everyone he knows and loves. That's an extremely stressful situation, and I think that they capture Evan's stress and anxiety from this very well.
I have mixed feelings on the songs, but there are two great standouts that I'd like to mention. First is Sincerely Me. This song was easily the funniest and most fun part of the film. It breaks the depression of the movie with a light-hearted, funny song. This is the only time that there was dancing along with singing, and I think it works well. I like the way that Stephen Chbosky shot the sequence. The actors are clearly enjoying doing this scene as well, and they bring their fun side to a movie that does not have a lot of fun elements.
On the complete flip side, You Will Be Found is a compelling, powerful, and insanely emotional song. This was the number where I lost it and the tears began flowing. After everything that had been set up throughout the first half of the movie, this song completes a part of Evan's character arc and sends a heartfelt message to anyone who feels lost or alone. It's an absolutely fabulous song that brings so much emotion to the screen.
The film also tackles the subject of mental illness really well. Evan is a really broken person that suffers from depression and anxiety, and he's our main protagonist. We follow him throughout the movie. We get everything from his perspective. And since the story is so stressful, you get a small taste of what it feels like to be in his position: lonely, scared, and depressed. That's part of what makes the movie so hard to watch, but it also makes it great at the same time.
Throughout the story, dominoes are set up in a line. Each lie that Evan tells is another domino that gets set up. I love the way that the movie is able to set the dominoes up from the beginning where they just fall down in a line in that final act. Although it's hard to watch, the plant and payoff is done really well in this movie.
One of my biggest problems with Dear Evan Hansen is the way that the majority of the songs are directed. With the exception of Waving Through a Window, Sincerely Me, and You Will Be Found, most of the songs are directed with little to no pizzazz. Besides those three numbers I mentioned, the other songs are just people sitting around and singing. The camera doesn't do anything interesting, the setting is boring, and the only redeeming thing is (usually) the song itself.
While I do love the emotional aspect of the story, it's a really, really heavy movie. What I mean by that is it can get almost too dark at times. There's nothing truly happy that happens in the movie. There are moments of levity and one-liners that will make you chuckle, but the story is so dark and distressing throughout the entire runtime. It never lets up, either. For the entire two hours of the movie, you are just filled with this sense of sadness that will not go away even when the credits roll. It will definitely be too much for some people. What's shocking is that other reviews are calling this a more "kid-friendly" version of the musical. This film is not kid-friendly at all, so I'm nervous to see how much sadder the musical is.
The screenplay is also pretty clunky. The dialogue can be very stilted and awkward at times, especially when focusing on the parents. There is no natural way to deliver some of the lines that are said, so this bad script also takes away from the performances. Both Amy Adams and Julianne Moore have some extremely awkward and unnatural lines that they have to say, and I think that it makes their performances worse. The character interactions are just wooden instead of being lively because the script is so bad.
A big problem with Dear Evan Hansen is that there aren't really a ton of likable characters. Yes, Evan is our main protagonist, but he is also kind of an accidental villain inside of the movie. Throughout, he's constantly lying and cheating his way to happiness. His motives are sympathetic, but his actions are not good. Likewise, Connor's parents push Evan a lot and ask him to do things that would make anyone uncomfortable. The only character that I found truly likable was Zoe. She never did anything really that bad or that annoying.
Dear Evan Hansen also ends at a somewhat unsatisfying spot. Since the film is so sad, you want the ending to be happy. And it's not that the ending is sad or bleak...it's just that the ending is not exactly happy. It doesn't make you feel good about where Evan is at or what transpired throughout the movie. Instead of resolving the feeling of sadness you had, it does nothing with it. It doesn't make it worse but it also doesn't make it better.
Analogy and Final Score
This is going to be a fun analogy: Watching Dear Evan Hansen is like a boxing match. One boxer is the film itself while the other boxer is the audience. Dear Evan Hansen keeps repeatedly punching the audience in the gut. It never knocks the audience out entirely, but it continuously punches them in the gut and never lets up throughout the entire round. The form of the punch is good and the boxer himself is good, but the punches to the audience hurt a lot and at some point you want Dear Evan Hansen to let up.
I have trouble scoring this film, because I do really like it. It's a great musical and a good movie that I really enjoyed, but it's so heavy and so sad that I can't give it good grades on the Fun Factor and stuff like that. And there are too many problems for me to give it a Sweet.
I think I'm gonna go Savory here. Age range is 16+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good)
Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
"Dear Evan Hansen"
Fun Factor: 5/10 (It's a fun movie to watch, but I can't give it higher than this because it is still very hard to watch)
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, mature themes, sexual content, minor language
Released on September 24, 2021
2 hours and 17 minutes
Ben Platt as Evan Hansen
Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe Murphy
Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy
Julianne Moore as Heidi Hansen
Amandla Stenberg as Alana Beck
Danny Pino as Larry Mora
Colton Ryan as Connor Murphy
Nik Dodani as Jared Kalwani