"Dear Evan Hansen" review: you have a friend (not)

Making an unsightly leap from the Broadway stage to the movie screen, the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” is the story of a liar, an accompli...


Making an unsightly leap from the Broadway stage to the movie screen, the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” is the story of a liar, an accomplished fabulist who uses the self-harm of a struggling classmate to gain popularity. Yet the movie (I guess in keeping with its Tony Award-winning predecessor, which I haven’t seen) wants us to not only sympathize with this character, but ultimately forgive him. This is a very big request.

It’s not just that Ben Platt, who is about to turn 28 and is reprising his role of Evan on stage, is such an unconvincing high school student as John Travolta was in “Grease”. Gripped by crippling social anxiety, Evan is a mess with sweaty palms, his eyes gleaming and coiled body language repelling other students as he enthusiastically sings about feeling invisible. (The songs are primarily by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.) When another outcast, the volatile Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), commits suicide while in possession of one of Evan’s therapeutic letters, the mother and Connor’s devastated stepfather (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) ​​become convinced that Evan was Connor’s best friend.

Rather than correcting this simple misunderstanding, Evan begins to appreciate its benefits, going so far as to enlist an acquaintance (an ironic Nik Dodani) to help fabricate an email exchange between Connor and himself. Welcomed into the Murphy’s luxurious home, he gets closer to Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), whom he has a crush on. Students look for him at school and his speech at Connor’s memorial goes viral. With each embellishment, attention and likes on social networks increase; It is only in the confident eyes of Connor’s mother that we see the cruelty of Evan’s deception.

Written by Steven Levenson and awkwardly directed by Stephen Chbosky (which is no stranger to teen drama), “Dear Evan Hansen” is a disturbing work, which constructs a sly, superficial and at times comical plot around adolescent mental health issues. The dialogue, interspersed with hilarious song lyrics on the nose, is mundane; Yet the story sheds light on the internet’s treacherous turns and how social media is exploiting tragedy. In a revealing scene, students pose for selfies in Connor’s flowery locker, conveniently forgetting that this was someone they had previously hated and ostracized.

Even with its elongated runtime and emotionally coercive structure (there will be tears, no doubt), this particular image does have a few bright spots, including a bright Julianne Moore as Evan’s overworked single mom. Moore might disappear for much of the film, but her one song is so moving it only emphasizes the emotional artifice that surrounds it. Amandla Stenberg is also notable, playing the role of the resident school and moral conscience activist, who brings unforced nostalgia to a song about anonymity she helped write. But the film’s most wasted opportunity lies in Dever’s nuanced portrayal of Zoe, whose exhaustion over the family’s obsessive attention to Connor’s needs highlights the tension of being the brother of a child. in trouble. When she admits to being afraid of Connor, the moment is passed as she too is duped by Evan’s fairy tale portrayal of a loving brother.

Treacly and manipulative, “Dear Evan Hansen” turns the villain into a victim and grief into an exploitable vulnerability. It made me cringe.

Dear Evan Hansen
Rated PG-13 for disturbing themes and shameful behavior. Duration: 2 hours 17 minutes. In theaters.

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