Dear Evan Hansen: Is it really that bad?

Ben Platt stars as the title role in the 2021 film Dear Evan Hansen, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. (Submitted: Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

As someone who lived and breathed Dear Evan Hansen when the Tony-Award-winning musical first hit Broadway in 2015, I prayed for a stage recording or film adaptation of this show for years. 

But when reviews for the movie started rolling in, I got scared. 

Many critics called the film terrible and the internet wasn’t kind to this coming-of-age movie since its premiere. 

The entirety of the internet seems to agree that the movie is a disaster that will only serve to bring even more shame to the genre of movie musicals — which still hasn’t recovered from the absolute dumpster fire that was Cats (2019).

After watching the movie, the musical and reading the book, I must admit the movie has problems — so big and so small.

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of Evan Hansen, a high school student with severe anxiety, who after the death of his classmate, Connor Murphy, gets himself caught in a web of self-constructed lies. 

The show deals with sensitive themes like suicide, mental illness and grief in a raw way that is rarely demonstrated well in the media. 

The stage adaptation handles these subjects with grace and caution. The movie does an incredible job depicting the grief of the Murphy family and the different aspects of mental illness through the addition of a new song “Anonymous Ones,” sung by the preppy side-character Alana, but it made a few big errors. 

First, the movie, through a discussion between Evan and Alana before “Anonymous Ones,” implies that a person is only “actually mentally ill” if they are on medication, which simply isn’t true and can be problematic for Dear Evan Hansen’s teenage target audience

Major error number two is brought to you by the mess that is Evan Hansen’s character. 

There was an uproar when it was announced in 2020 that Ben Platt was cast as Evan. 

Platt originated the role on Broadway and was awarded the “Best Leading Actor in a Musical” Tony award in 2017.

While Platt certainly has the vocal ability for the role and is an incredibly talented actor on and off screen, he’s 28 years old — Evan is 17. Although Kaitlyn Dever, the woman that plays Evan’s love interest Zoe Murphy, is 24, she looks much younger.

The result was Evan looking out of place in nearly any scene. It made him feel more like a creepy stalker rather than a boy with a crush when it came to his romantic relationship with Zoe, Connor’s sister. 

Evan’s character is already portrayed as a horrible person due to his actions in the show, but on stage, this is balanced out by the guilt that is displayed through his interactions with an imaginary Connor. 

The movie cut out imaginary Connor, and in doing so, didn’t allow the audience to see Evan’s thoughts and intentions as he continues to lie to the people in his life. It hardens the audience to Evan’s gross actions and makes it extremely hard to feel bad for the guy. 

As is typical with stage-to-screen adaptations, there were a number of songs cut from the soundtrack — perhaps the biggest mistake this film made was cutting “Good For You.” 

“Good For You” is a pivotal song in the plot where Evan’s mother, childhood friend Jared and Alana finally hold Evan accountable for all the lies he told. It reaffirms that what Evan is doing to the Connor family is disgusting and it is the moment where Evan realizes just how badly he messed up. 

But sure, let’s cut that out and throw in a reprise of “Anonymous Ones” that did almost nothing to move the story along. 

These are just the major flaws of the movie. There were a number of small things that Dear Evan Hansen simply got wrong. 

There’s the obscene number of LGBTQ2IA+ pride and diversity support posters that steal focus in literally any scene shot in the school. While one or two would’ve been realistic, these posters haunt every scene and just scream, “look at us! We support everyone!”

It’s almost funny that the movie was trying so hard to show that they support LGBTQ2IA+ communities through the background posters, considering they unnecessarily stereotyped them through the annihilation of Jared Kleinman’s character — or as the movie calls him, Jared Kalwani.

In the musical, Jared is a massively insecure outcast who tries to over-compensate at every chance he gets and project the lie that he is popular and gets all the women. In the movie, he’s confident, slightly caring towards Evan, and most notably gay. Gone is the mean, yet strangely loveable, loser. He has been replaced by a barely appearing sass-master who calls Evan “honey.” 

It is nothing short of Jared Kleinman erasure. 

Despite all of this, the movie is watchable. It has some incredible cinematography, especially in “Sincerely, Me.” It has beautiful transitions from talking to singing that are seamless. Plot-wise, it remains accurate to the musical and is honestly an okay adaptation. 

So the final verdict? It’s not as horrendous as it’s been made out to be. It’s actually half-decent, but it’s not perfect by any means.