Dear All That Dazzles readers
2021 is going to be a good year and here's why... It is the year of the movie musical!
So far this year we have been treated to film adaptations of In The Heights and Everybody's Talking About Jamie with West Side Story coming to save Christmas later this year. The latest to be released is the film adaptation of one of the biggest musicals of the last decade - the Tony and Olivier award winning Dear Evan Hansen.
First appearing on Broadway in 2016, Dear Evan Hansen sees the title character tell a lie that spirals out of control (The lie wasn't about his age). Not only has it won countless awards, it has also amassed a legion of devoted fans. Full disclaimer - I cite Dear Evan Hansen as one of my all time favourite shows, if not my actual favourite, so it is going to be hard to write this review without comparing it to the show. How would a film adaptation of a show I love so much fare? It couldn't POSSIBLY get it so ridiculously wrong, it would be a crushing disappointment, could it? This IS going to be an amazing film, right? Because why wouldn't it be?
Deep breaths everybody...
Let's start by talking about the elderly elephant in the room. Step forward, Ben Platt. Much has been said about his casting in this movie. Ben originated the role of Dear (If you know, you know) several decades ago and reprised the role in the movie on his own back and nothing to do with the fact his dad produced it. Older people playing teenagers in movies is nothing new so perhaps the backlash Ben has received isn't completely fair. However, it isn't helped by the fact he looks completely bizarre in the movie - with weird CGI on his face and a hairstyle that feels like a prank making him look even stranger than he would have if they'd just let him be. His strange appearance takes you out of the moment and leaves you struggling to immerse yourself in the world the movie tries to set up. It must be said though that Ben Platt is a phenomenal talent - a brilliant actor and an even better singer. He deservedly won a Tony award for his portrayal of Evan, but this doesn't translate on screen for one reason or the other. And the constant shots of him running in a weird manner leads me to believe he made an enemy when the movie was being edited.
It's easy to say Ben Platt is what's wrong with this movie adaptation, but that isn't completely true. My issue is what the film does to the other characters. In the musical we learn about how Evan's actions, affect the cast of supporting characters. However these have been minimised or altogether erased in the movie version. This not only eradicates what gives the musical so much heart, it makes it that much harder to sympathise with Evan as a character. The musical allows us to forgive Evan for his questionable choices, the movie does not. While Evan's actions splits opinion among theatregoers, the show carries with it a lot of heart. This adaptation feels entirely soulless.
The roles of Evan's mother and both of Connor's parents are significantly reduced, with the role of Connor's dad inexplicably changed to now be his stepfather. We lose some pivotal scenes with all three of those characters, though Connor's parents thankfully still get their own heartbreaking moment in 'Requiem'. The relatively underwritten role of Alana from the stage production has supposedly been rewritten, giving her a new song with the fantastic 'The Anonymous Ones'. However, her friendship with Evan feels inauthentic, with key bits of dialogue she has in the show being completely erased. Most unforgivably at all though is what they have done to Connor. They had a great opportunity to build on his character, perhaps even using some of his backstory in the brilliant book adaptation. Instead, they completely minimise him, removing his pivotal song 'Disappear' which ironically makes him all but disappear. While his new song 'A Little Closer' is a nice touch, it shows a serious lack of understanding from all involved in this movie.
In terms of the cast, some incredible actors have been assembled for this, and they do the best they can with the source material. Amy Adams is as awe-inspiring as ever, albeit far too underused as Cynthia Murphy, while Julianne Moore gives an emotional turn as Evan's mother Heidi, though the less said about her singing, the better. Kairlyn Dever is wonderful as Zoe, one of the only characters whose story is left relatively intact, while Amandla Stenberg does the best she can with a challenging character who often feels like an afterthought.
One of the elements that has made the stage show so beloved among many is its amazing songs, written by the supremely talented Pasek & Paul. A few of the shows most enduring numbers have sadly been cut while two new ones have been added. As for the remaining songs, they are all sung beautifully by the incredibly talented cast. However, the way the songs are performed on screen is far more varied. 'For Forever', 'Requiem' and 'Only Us' have decent enough sequences, 'Waving Through A Window' manages to make one of the shows most famous numbers underwhelming while 'Sincerely, Me' goes from being a standout moment in the show to a cringefest on screen. Whoever deided to change the iconic choreography needs to rethink their career choice.
The biggest song in the show and movie is 'You Will Be Found' - a song with a message so powerful, it is a case of life imitating art as the message spreads far and wide. I was nervous to see how this would be recreated on screen as it never fails to reduce me to a quivering wreck in the theatre. The sequence is the most perfect bit of the movie, making it bigger and never compromising the message of the lyrics. A stunning bit of cinematography, this makes the film all the more frustrating as moments of brilliance such as this one are present.
Perhaps it is unfair to compare the movie to the stage version so treating this as a standalone movie, how does it fare? Average is the answer. The film feels unoriginal in its conveying of the outsider teenage with social anxiety, and has been bettered before. While I admire the way the film hammers home the "You will be found" message in a way that feels much bigger than Connor, they make too many mistakes along the way. Soon after the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen was announced, filming was completed. I worried the whole thing was rushed, and it looks like I was right to be worried. More time and care would have allowed a film that took what was great about the stage musical and ran with it. The recent film adaptation of Everybody's Talking About Jamie wasn't shy in making changes from the stage show in a way that made sense. It used the bigger scope possible with film and ran with it. Dear Evan Hansen tiptoes around subjects, never quite forming strong enough opinions on what story it wants to tell, underwriting and erasing characters that were previously moe fleshed out and failing on nearly all fronts.
So what is my overall verdict on the film? Words fail. Well, they don't as this bumper length review testifies. If words don't fail, the film certainly does. Poor casting choices, bizarre sequences and a tone that feels incredibly jarring and ultimately falls flat makes this the biggest musical disappointment of the film. The elements that save this from being a total disaster are the gorgeous vocals, incredibly talented cast and the pure perfection that is 'You Will Be Found'. Other than that, this is a poor addition to the Dear Evan Hansen legacy.
it turns out this wasn't an amazing film after all. This isn't going to be an amazing awards season for it and it's not going to be an amazing legacy.
Dear Evan Hansen is released in UK cinemas on Friday 22nd October. The West End production reopens at the Noel Coward Theatre on Tuesday 26th October.