By Sam Acosta
“Dear Evan Hansen” is a beautiful adaptation that brings the same great emotions as the original musical. Although some of the more popular songs are missing from the film, the story is still largely intact and well communicated. The new songs written for the film are also well written and well placed in the retelling of the story.
The film follows Evan, a high school student struggling with depression and anxiety, whose therapist asked him to write encouraging letters to himself every day. One of these letters accidentally ends up in the hands of Connor Murphy, a struggling social outcast. Connor is later discovered to have committed suicide and his family find the letter Evan wrote to himself on Connor’s body.
Believing this to be a letter from Connor to Evan, they implore Evan to tell them about their friendship, desperately seeking some hope in a life that seemed completely devoid of it. Evan, unable to cope with social pressure and genuinely eager to be a source of comfort to the family, fabricates a friendship story between the two. As the lie grows, the possible consequences of that lie also increase.
This film faced mixed to low reviews from critics while still having high reviews from audience members. Many critics primarily attack two aspects of the film: the cast of Ben Platt and the story itself. I want to address both of these concerns because I feel that these concerns are largely unfounded.
Ben Platt, 26‘s portrait of a high school student Evan Hansen was subjected to harsh criticism by critics
Critics claim Ben Platt looks too old to be in high school and it is uncomfortable to see him pretending to be a student. Ben Platt was twenty-seven at the time of filming, almost a decade older than most of the high school students. I find this review extremely hypocritical, as this practice is not at all uncommon. Shows such as “Riverdale” or “13 Reasons Why” have always used actors and actresses from the mid to late twenties to portray high school students.
I would even say that these castings are more uncomfortable and dangerous because they created unrealistic standards for what teenagers should look like. All of these actors play characters who match the Hollywood beauty standards that have so toxicly affected our society. Ben Platt didn’t do that. In my opinion, he portrayed a high school kid more realistically than most of the other actors.
Second, some critics find the story too dark or unrealistic to be compelling or even admired. I feel like this is just an invalid argument. Do I think the series of events flowing from Evan’s lie would actually happen in real life? Probably not. Do I see how things are going and understand the logical jump from one event to another? Absoutely.
I see how Evan’s anxiety causes him to feed Connor’s family the fantasy they so want to believe. I can see how his loneliness causes him to become so attached to the Murphy family that he becomes dependent on these relationships, even if they are ultimately built on a lie. Do I think he’s morally right to do what he’s doing? Of course not, and history shows that quite clearly. Still, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with Evan or understand exactly where he’s coming from emotionally.
The story takes us to Evan‘emotional journey but don’t‘I don’t hesitate to show the consequences of his actions
Indeed, the music and the story reach the very heart of your emotions. From its opening number to its closing song, you will feel all the emotions of the character and learn not only about the characters but also about yourself. The topics of depression and anxiety are presented in a visceral and grounded way that does not exploit them, as many modern movies and shows have done, but explore the practical and emotional realities of these struggles, although in a rather unrealistic story. Each song fits perfectly into the overall story, without feeling like it’s just music for the sake of music (which is one of my biggest gripes when it comes to musicals).
On top of that, the acting is flawless, everyone is doing their job, and no one is lacking in ability. Their vocals are amazing too, another amazing aspect of this musical that sets it apart from other musical adaptations. Most musicals take the same approach: Every time the music and vocals start, the world calms down and it seems obvious that the vocals were recorded in a studio after the fact. This movie doesn’t look like that. It feels like every song is sung in the moment, which makes them so much more special.
This is a movie that would be easy to blast at for hours on end (as we did in the A&E section of Cedars on our recent podcast), but what’s important is that you know this movie isn’t. It’s not what critics and critics say it is. It’s a work of art: it’s emotional and raw and unique and something really beautiful. If you have time, check out this movie. As one of the best Broadway musicals of the past decade, I have no doubt this will be one of the best movie musicals of the next.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is now in theaters.
Click here to view our podcast episode “Is “Dear Evan Hansen” a misunderstood masterpiece? “
Sam Acosta is a Junior Theater Comprehensive Major and A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr Pepper, and writing plays.