Movie Reviews

Nobody’s Waving Back | “Dear Evan Hansen” (2021) Movie Review

After a year and half, I finally went back to the cinema. And while some were excited for Shang-Chi or the latest James Bond movie, I decided to check out the real box office juggernaut. That’s right, a movie based off a Tony-winning musical that has people talking about the lead’s age because he plays a high schooler while almost in his 30s.

Ben Platt plays the eponymous Evan Hansen, a high schooler struggling with social anxiety who’s encouraged by his mom, Heidi (Julianne Moore) and therapist to write letters to himself to boost his confidence. On the first day of school, he prints a letter out but it’s taken by a classmate, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan). Days later, Evan is called to the principal’s office where Connor’s mom, Cynthia (Amy Adams) and step-father, Larry (Danny Pino) tell him that Connor killed himself. With the letter and signed cast, they believe that he was friends with him, and rather than tell the truth, Evan not only confirms what they believe but insists they were close. With the help of his friend Jared (Nik Dodani), he makes the emails needed to prove they were friends. And working with classmate Alana (Amandla Stenberg), he gets to know the family and forms a relationship with Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever).

When the first trailer came out, critics and audiences expressed concerns of the 28-year-old Platt playing Evan Hansen. While it’s common for adults to play high schoolers, I can agree that Platt is too old to play Evan here. On stage and on the soundtrack, you can see why he’s been perfect for the role personality-wise, but the prosthetics and ways they try to make him look young backfires to the point that I wish they just picked an unknown actor and had this role launch their career the way it did for Platt on stage in 2017.

Aside from Platt, the rest of the cast does a solid job. While Colton Ryan and Nik Dodani have moments where they shine, I wish there was more of them in the movie. Julianne Moore and Amy Adams show strong maternal sides as foils between the motherly figure Evan wants and what he needs. Danny Pino brings a lot of sympathy as a detached father that grasps with his son’s sudden death. Another bright light was Amandla Stenberg; she plays a solid foil to Evan when it comes to mental health and remembering Connor. Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think how amazing she would be as Jodie Landon in a live-action Daria series.

No matter how you look at the story, it’s essentially about a kid who lies to a grieving family and uses that lie to get close to the dead kid’s sister. And while it attempts to show Evan attempt to learn a lesson, it does little to hold him accountable. The closest he gets is brief ostracizing and isolation and not getting with Zoe. But other than that, Evan is relatively unscathed. I will, however, respect the ending; without spoiling too much, the movie does force Evan to learn about Connor more.

Just like the musical, the music here is amazing and it makes sense why the show was as popular as it was. Songs like “Sincerely, Me” and “Requiem” are just as amazing as they are on the soundtrack. “If I Could Tell Her” and “Only Us” are on the surface sweet songs between the love interest and Evan, but are rather off-putting given the age of Platt. And then there’s “You Will Be Found”; this really feels like “This is Me” from Paul and Pasek’s other musical work “The Greatest Showman.” Both songs really hit an emotional core.

Were there better movies to have as my first movie post-pandemic? Yes. Do I regret seeing it? Not really. I try to find the movies that will make for interesting reviews and that’s what I got here. The music is really good and most of the cast does a good job. But both are weighed down by the story and Ben Platt’s uncanny performance and it doesn’t have the same bizarre appeals “CATS” had. Fans of the musical might enjoy it, but it’s not mandatory for others.

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