Copyright, Universal Pictures

Dear Evan Hansen

PG-13-Rating (MPA)

Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan CONTRIBUTOR

Copyright, Universal Pictures

Somber content

Sinfulness of cruel, shameful behavior toward fragile, vulnerable people

Vital importance of EMPATHY, KINDNESS and standing up to DEFEND hurting people in need of HELP

Youth suicide / suicide of a fellow classmate

  • SUICIDE —What does the Bible say? Answer

The protagonist exploits a near-stranger’s suicide to gain personal popularity, lying to many people—and this is not addressed as sinful by the film

Sin of lying to a fragile, grieving mother about having a false friendship with her dead son

Copyright, Universal Pictures

Social anxiety disorder / disability

Attempting to improve one’s disposition and communication skills

Mother and son relationship

Autism / Asperger's Syndrome

Copyright, Universal Pictures

  • DEPRESSION —Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer
  • What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression?

Teen Qs™ Christian Answers for Teens

High school

Teen Qs™—Christian Answers for teenagers

The joy of gaining a sense of belonging

Journey of self-discovery and acceptance

Use of profane and vulgar language

Copyright, Universal Pictures

“D ear Evan Hansen, this was an amazing d**”

“No, wait, that’s not what I want to type,” Evan thinks to himself. “Let’s try this again.”

“Dear Evan Hansen, It turns out this wasn’t an amazing day after all. This isn’t going to be an amazing week or an amazing year. Because, why would it be?”

Evan Hansen is a young teen from a small town in Maryland. He struggles with Social Anxiety Disorder. Even the smallest conversations and interactions make him very nervous, such as meeting the delivery man at the door and especially talking to his classmates. He has only one friend, a “family friend.”

His anxiety has affected his everyday life to the point that his therapist, Dr. Sherman has recommended that he write letters to himself everyday to help him boost his confidence and self-esteem.

Enter Connor Murphy ( Colton Ryan ), brother of Evan’s secret crush Zoe Murphy ( Kaitlyn Dever ). Connor has been a lone wolf, an outcast, and though, according to his stepfather, he’s been given everything, he’s always found a way to cause trouble. Connor stands out in other ways. He paints his nails, he keeps to himself, he dresses in dark colors and walks around depressed . Sadly, he is considered the school outcast, and the jocks tend to verbally abuse everyday at school.

In fact, apart from causing trouble, Connor and Evan, are both loners and have more in common than they think.

One day in the library, while Evan is printing out a letter he wrote to himself, Connor comes up to him and writes his name on his cast. “There, now we can pretend we both have friends,” Connor says. Then Connor grabs the letter, mistakenly thinking it is about him and his family. Evan tries to talk him down, but Connor runs off and disappears into town.

The next day, Evan is called into the principal’s office. Connor took his own life, and he had Evan’s letter on him. Connor’s parents see Connor’s handwriting on Evan’s cast. “That’s his handwriting!”, we didn’t think Connor had any friends. Tell us about what you did together….”

?????????????????? This film is a story that reminds us all that we truly are never alone, in our darkest hour, in our darkest moments, and that sometimes all you need is a helping hand…

Background and Impact of the Musical

The premise behind “Dear Evan Hansen” is reportedly based on an event that occurred at the composers’ high school (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). According to a 2019 article, the man responsible for the script (Steve Levenson), states,

“It was someone who had been sort of a loner, didn’t have a lot of friends or status at school, …but suddenly in the wake [of] the death, Benj watched as everyone wanted to claim that they had been friends with him and claim that they had been a part of this person’s life.” — Playbill report on New York Comic Con panel

However, the composers and the scriptwriter wanted the story to go further than this.

“The show talks about the complicated nature of when you’re not always so truthful . But it grew to something we did not expect.”

Indeed, their musical play “Dear Evan Hansen” has been around for over 5 years, and has had a significant impact on millennials and the generation that came after. It deals with the very uncomfortable, difficult to understand, yet necessary to address, topics of teen suicide, mental health awareness, and negative impacts of social media.

As one of my friends mentioned in her review, whereas the musical mainly relies on the music to convey its messaging, in the film the STORY is the main focus. It is even doubled down on. Certain songs are removed to increase time for the two overarching themes of “loneliness” and the “consequences of lying.”

Cinematography and Thoughts

The film “Dear Evan Hansen” has been criticized for many reasons. Ever since the trailer was released, the choice of casting 27 year old lead actor Ben Platt as a 17 year old has been berated. When he first starred in the role on Broadway he was 22. Efforts were made through makeup, hair changesm costuming and weight loss to make him look younger. Honestly, I’m still on the fence about this. Ben originated the role, and he makes a good effort on screen. However, someone else might have been a better choice to carry on what Platt began.

I think Kaitlyn Dever was a solid choice for the role of Zoe. She commands the screen in her scenes. Julianne Moore is far too underutilized.

The film’s pacing is steady, and transition from stage to screen is always a difficulty, but the 2 hour and 17 minute runtime is a tad too long for my liking.

As a fan of the musical play, my other issue is that some iconic songs that really define the adult characters have been intentionally cut from the film. While I understand some of the reasoning behind this, when you have a vocal powerhouse like Amy Adams , you could and should have kept a song like “Does Anyone Have a Map?” and given her more to sing in the song “Requiem.”

Those who aren’t already fans of the musical will likely not be bothered by things left out of the film.

Content of Concern

Violence: We hear about Connor’s suicide in the movie. Also a female student attempts to commit suicide by driving at high speed through a yellow light. We learn about how another student tried to commit suicide by jumping from a tree. We repeately see a student fall from a really tall tree and land on his arm, breaking it (the same incident in flashback form).

Mean-spiritedness: “Jocks” take pictures of themselves in front of a dead student’s locker (proud that he is dead). On an Internet message board, someone comments “I’d kill myself too if I was in that family.” We listen to some hateful messages from people on the Internet about the Murphy family.

Profanity: “For Chr*st’s sakes” (1), “Oh my G*d” (7), “Oh God” (1), H*ly sh*t” (1), H*ll (3), D*mn (1)

Vulgarity: “F**king” (1), “Hooked up” (euphemism for sex) (1), “My sister's hot” (1), the phrase, “"I rub my n*pples and start moaning with delight,” “Sh*t” (5), “Bat-sh*t” (1), and “S*cks” (3)

Sexual Material: There are LBGTQ+ posters on the walls of the school Evan attends. The Pride flag is painted on the school walls. There are a couple homosexual references. An openly Gay character says he hooked up with a Brazilian dude. The words “sex thing” are used a couple times. Two characters kiss.

  • GAY —What’s wrong with being Gay? Answer — Homosexual behavior versus the Bible: Are people born Gay? Does homosexuality harm anyone? Is it anyone’s business? Are homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally valid?
  • What about Gays needs to change? Answer — It may not be what you think.
  • Read stories about those who have struggled with homosexuality

Nudity: We see teenage boys in the locker room without shirts and one only in a towel.

Drugs: A character is prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications by a doctor, and we see these prescriptions on his table. We also hear about these medications being discussed by two students.

Alcohol: In two scenes, adult characters are seen drinking alcohol at a home.

Morals and Spiritual Themes

There is one central theme that surrounds the entire premise of “Dear Evan Hansen” and that is “no one is alone.”

Suicidal thoughts indeed, can make one feel helpless, like there are no other options, especially for those who have not surrendered their life to Jesus Christ . Teen suicide is, sadly, on a substantial rise in this country. Teens struggle with deceptions, abuse, identity issues, lack of acceptance, mental confusion, overblown emotions, feelings of lack of love or empathy, or overwhelming sadness and hopelessness.

Many wrongly believe that suicide is the only way out of their emotional pain. They are falling into Satan’s ultimate trap.

First, we must realize we are NOT alone. God is real and at work in the world. He is Eternal! He is forever! He is Everlasting! And He is offering what you truly need.

Does God feel our pain?

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?

“ Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” — Isaiah 41:10
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death , I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. — Psalm 23:4
  • FEAR, Anxiety and Worry —What does the Bible say? Answer

Second, when we feel we’re not worthy, God reminds us (myself included!), that we are worthwhile to Him!

“But God, who is rich in mercy , for his great love wherewith he loved us” — Ephesians 2:4-9
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9

Final Thoughts

Some critics have argued the film “Dear Evan Hansen” doesn’t address the topics (teen suicide, mental health, social media, etc.) with the gravity and depth they rightfully deserve. Then again, is that fair? “Dear Evan Hansen” is, in fact, a movie-musical. It’s not perfect, by far. It doesn’t even claim to have answers. However, perhaps the film starts or continues the conversation we should be having with teens and young adults. Perhaps teens who watch this may look and realize, “I’m struggling and I need help.”

Apart from the underlying serious and disturbing themes I’ve stated, there is profanity, some sexual material and other material to be concerned with.

My advice is if you decide to go, please screen the film beforehand. There are some intense moments on screen that are not appropriate for younger audiences. Viewer discernment is strongly advised for teens.

  • Profane language: Heavy
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Heavy
  • Sex: Moderately Heavy
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Moderate
  • Violence: Moderate to mild
  • Nudity: Mild
  • Occult: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers .

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

christian movie review dear evan hansen


"asks the meaning of life but gives no answers".

christian movie review dear evan hansen

What You Need To Know:

Miscellaneous Immorality: Strong miscellaneous immorality where lying is a major part of the plot, but there are negative repercussions.

More Detail:

DEAR EVAN HANSEN is a musical drama about a high school student with social anxiety disorder who finds a connection with a married couple grieving the loss of their son. Based on the Tony-winning play, DEAR EVAN HANSEN has some moral elements to it, but it’s overwhelmed by a humanist worldview and contains foul language.

Evan Hansen suffers from social anxiety and depression. He doesn’t seem to fit in to his high school. When he breaks his arm, his mother gives him a sharpie and tells him to ask other kids to sign the cast. At the request of his therapist, every day Evan writes a letter to himself about what he’s done that day and how he feels about it.

He writes a letter about the girl he likes, Zoe. When he’s in line to print the letter on the school printer, he sees Zoe’s brother, Connor. Connor says he’ll sign Evan’s cast, but right after that he sees that Evan has written about his sister, so he steals the letter. The next day Evan comes to school and is called into the principal’s office. Connor’s mother and stepfather are there, and they tell Evan that Connor has committed suicide. The only thing they found on Connor was Evan’s letter. This leads them to believe that Connor wrote the letter to Evan and was Evan’s only friend. Of course, this isn’t true. In reality, Connor was a bully to Evan. However, Evan feels he can’t let the parents down since they just lost their son. Also, the news about the letter brings lots of attention to Evan.

Going along with the lie that Connor and Evan were friends, Evan starts telling stories about Connor. Connor’s whole family begins to accept him and bring him into their family. Even Zoe starts to like Evan and even wants to date him.

Now the question is, has the lie become to misleading and will it hurt people deeply? How can Evan come clean?

DEAR EVAN HANSEN is a well-produced musical drama. It has some excellent singing, and the acting is really good. Also, the characters seem well defined. Overall, the movie feels much like a musical, but the story doesn’t have a clear resolution at the end.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN has a humanist worldview and requires extreme caution due to Connor’s suicide and the lie that’s the premise of the movie. DEAR EVAN HANSEN has some positive notes about families learning to come together. The movie shows a young man learning confidence and how to interact with other people. Though this is the case, there is no redemption. Thus, eventually, the movie offers no solution to the world’s negativity, and viewers are left feeling purposeless. DEAR EVAN HANSEN also contains excessive foul language. So, although Evan does have to admit the lie and feel the repercussions of that, MOVIEGUIDE® must advise extreme caution.

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Dear evan hansen, common sense media reviewers.

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Uneven adaptation of popular musical addresses suicide.

Dear Evan Hansen Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Encourages honest communication, empathy, compassi

Evan is a deeply flawed person who tells a lie and

Main characters are all White; supporting characte

Several discussions of a central death by suicide,

A couple of kissing scenes, jokes about Evan's the

Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "bats-

Adults drink wine at dinner. Song lyrics include r

Parents need to know that Dear Evan Hansen is the stage-to-screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning 2016 musical about a lonely high school senior who's mistaken for a dead classmate's best friend and then entangled in his family's grief. That classmate's death by suicide is a focal point of the story, and…

Positive Messages

Encourages honest communication, empathy, compassion, perseverance. As story makes very clear, lying, even out of a sense of kindness, has consequences, as does being manipulative. Stresses importance of a strong bond between parents and teens, the need for trusted adults, friends, or "chosen family" with whom vulnerable kids and teens can discuss difficult topics. Addresses the power -- both for better and worse -- of social media.

Positive Role Models

Evan is a deeply flawed person who tells a lie and then allows that lie to spread into more and more lies that grow out of control. But his friendship and lies do comfort the grieving Murphys, who believe that Evan is their dead son/brother's best (and only) friend. Evan's mother is hardworking and devoted, even if she's not always present (she has to work a lot of shifts to make ends meet). Zoe is loving and honest. The Murphys are generous even through their grief. Alana thinks of everyone who can be helped if the Connor Project allows those with mental health struggles or suicidal ideation to come forward and seek help.

Diverse Representations

Main characters are all White; supporting characters include a young Black woman and a South Asian and gay character. Some socioeconomic and invisible-disability diversity, including mental health conditions (OCD, anxiety, ADHD).

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Several discussions of a central death by suicide, as well as how Evan fell out of a tree and fractured his arm. A high schooler yells in the face of a classmate and then pushes him; he falls down.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

A couple of kissing scenes, jokes about Evan's therapy letters to himself being "sex letters" and about a character's experience (or lack thereof), scenes of teen couples dancing and embracing at a school dance. Shirtless locker room scene. References to someone being "hot," and a couple of risqué song lyrics (about getting hard and about rubbing nipples and moaning, and the word "kinky" is used).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "bats--t," "holy s--t," one use of "f--kin'," and social media language insulting Connor and his family.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine at dinner. Song lyrics include references to drug use.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Dear Evan Hansen is the stage-to-screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning 2016 musical about a lonely high school senior who's mistaken for a dead classmate's best friend and then entangled in his family's grief. That classmate's death by suicide is a focal point of the story, and there are many references to his death, depression, and substance abuse. Expect occasional strong language, including one "f--kin'" and a few uses of "s--t." A character tells sexual jokes, and song lyrics include a few risqué lines (i.e., references to rubbing nipples and getting hard), but visuals are limited to a couple of kisses, dancing, and flirting. The main character's decision to continually manufacture lies (even if, at first, they're told to help a grieving family) taints his initially selfless intent. Ultimately, the story encourages honest communication, empathy, compassion, and perseverance and addresses the powerful role that social media can play in teens' lives. Ben Platt reprises his Broadway role as Evan, but the rest of the cast -- including Julianne Moore , Amy Adams , Kaitlin Dever , and Amandla Stenberg -- is new. Stephen Chbosky directs. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

Where to Watch

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christian movie review dear evan hansen

Community Reviews

  • Parents say (3)
  • Kids say (38)

Based on 3 parent reviews

Pretty tame, great for fans of the original musical

What's the story.

In DEAR EVAN HANSEN, high school senior Evan ( Ben Platt ) has started the school year with his arm in a cast, only family friend Jared (Nik Dodani) to talk to, and a crush from afar on Zoe Murphy ( Kaitlin Dever ). Evan, who has an anxiety disorder, writes letters to himself signed by other people as part of an exercise recommended by his therapist. When Evan's classmate Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), the school outcast -- and Zoe's brother -- dies by suicide, the Murphys find one of Evan's letters in his possession and believe that it's Connor's final note. Their mistaken belief about Connor and Evan's friendship is furthered by the fact that Connor had been the only person to sign Evan's cast. Evan initially wants to tell the Murphys the truth, but Mrs. Murphy ( Amy Adams ) is so relieved to know that Connor died with a secret best friend that Evan can't bear to clear up the mistake. But he takes the lie to the next level when he enlists Nik to fabricate emails between Connor and Evan so that Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Murphy (Danny Pino), and Zoe can get a glimpse of Connor and Evan's "friendship." As Evan grows closer to the Murphy family and benefits from his perceived proximity to Connor, his lies spin out of control, and he even gaslights his single mother, Heidi ( Julianne Moore ). The situation gets progressively more manipulative and indefensible as Evan and Zoe grow close romantically and the student body president ( Amandla Stenberg ) founds a charitable project in Connor's name and asks Evan to be on the board.

Is It Any Good?

This adaptation benefits from its all-star cast and Platt's amazing voice, but it also highlights the differences between stage and screen -- i.e., a musical's book isn't necessarily meant to be a screenplay. It's undeniable that Platt can sing, and anyone who's listened to the Tony-winning show's cast recording or was lucky enough to see the original stars on Broadway can attest to his talents on the Great White Way. But on the big screen, five years after he originated the role, Platt feels too old -- and too theatrical in his physicality (which works perfectly on-stage but can be too much onscreen) -- to seamlessly portray Evan. The shortcomings of the show's book are glaring in a two-hours-plus film, and although some changes were made for the better, it's ultimately disappointing, because director Stephen Chbosky is a YA and adaptation specialist.

It's hard not to feel like this version of Dear Evan Hansen doesn't meet the inflated expectations of fans of Platt and Broadway. That's not to say that there aren't aspects that work well, like the women in the ensemble: Adams, Dever, Moore, and Stenberg all add an authenticity to their parts and an emotional range to their songs. Moore is somewhat underused as Evan's always-at-work mom but in the last act gives a powerful performance of "So Big/So Small , " while Stenberg contributes to the new-for-the-film song "The Anonymous Ones." Dever and Adams provide different perspectives on grief, first from losing Connor and then from feeling betrayed by the eventual and inevitable outing of Evan's deception. That deception and how it's handled in the movie is one of the film's biggest missteps, because it renders Evan unlikable nearly beyond redemption. Still, while this musical adaptation isn't going to top any best-of lists, Platt's voice helps make up for his acting. For some of its individual parts, Dear Evan Hansen is worth seeing, but as a sum of those parts, it lacks the cohesion necessary to elevate it beyond a singularly focused vehicle for Platt to re-create his award-winning stage performance.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about how Dear Evan Hansen was adapted for the movies. For those familiar with the musical: What do you think of the changes made? What worked better on-screen than onstage, and vice versa? What other musicals do you wish were turned into movies?

How does the movie portray suicide and its aftermath? In what ways does the story normalize mental health issues? When is it important to talk about mental health, especially if you're worried about a friend or family member? What resources are available to help both kids and adults ?

What lessons does Evan learn throughout the movie? Is lying morally wrong if it's for a selfless reason? What about when it ends up being for personal gain as well? Does intent matter, or only impact?

Who -- if anyone -- is a role model in the story? What character strengths do they display? Why are compassion , empathy , and perseverance so important to show in movies and pop culture?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : September 24, 2021
  • On DVD or streaming : December 7, 2021
  • Cast : Ben Platt , Kaitlyn Dever , Amandla Stenberg , Julianne Moore , Amy Adams
  • Director : Stephen Chbosky
  • Inclusion Information : Gay actors, Female actors, Non-Binary actors, Bisexual actors, Pansexual actors, Black actors
  • Studio : Universal Pictures
  • Genre : Musical
  • Topics : High School , Music and Sing-Along
  • Character Strengths : Communication , Compassion , Empathy , Perseverance
  • Run time : 131 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive references
  • Last updated : February 22, 2024

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Catholic Review

Catholic Review

Inspiring the Archdiocese of Baltimore

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Movie Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

christian movie review dear evan hansen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Honesty, we’re assured, is the best policy. For an object lesson in just how badly awry even a well-meaning ruse may go, viewers can consult the earnest musical drama “Dear Evan Hansen” (Universal).

Beyond illustrating the negative consequences of deception, director Stephen Chbosky’s screen version of the award-winning 2016 Broadway hit is marked, overall, by upright fundamental values. So, despite some incidental concessions to misguided current mores, and a bit of tacky talk in the dialogue, parents will probably find it acceptable for older adolescents.

Ben Platt reprises his stage role as the angst-ridden teen of the title. Clinically depressed and socially isolated, Evan yearns to be noticed by fellow high school student Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever). Instead, pretty much the only person with whom he interacts is another classmate, Jared (Nik Dodani), an openly gay techie who only tolerates Evan because their mothers are pals.

After Zoe’s troubled brother Connor (Colton Ryan) takes his own life, a misunderstanding leads his parents — kindly but fragile mom Cynthia (Amy Adams) and emotionally repressed stepdad Larry (Danny Pino) — to believe that Evan and Connor were best friends. Rather than correct the mistake, Evan goes along with it, eventually fabricating evidence of the nonexistent relationship.

Partly, Evan is motivated by a desire to comfort the grieving couple. But he also sees an opportunity to get closer to Zoe. And, as he quickly becomes something of an adopted son to Cynthia and Larry, they begin to provide him with a fuller family life than his overworked divorced mother Heidi (Julianne Moore) can.

As this storyline suggests, those in search of toe-tapping diversion should look elsewhere since the work of composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul as well as screenwriter Steven Levenson, the author of the show’s book, is anything but lighthearted. Cynics, too, may come away unsatisfied.

Moviegoers inclined to plumb the emotional depths explored in this always intense but sometimes awkward and overbearing picture, by contrast, should equip themselves with a suitable supply of Kleenex. They’ll likely be swept up by Platt’s hard-driving performance and avid to appreciate the spotlight the script throws on the real-life problems of young people like Evan and Connor.

The film contains mature themes, including suicide and depression, references to homosexuality, at least one use of profanity, several milder oaths as well as one rough and a few crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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christian movie review dear evan hansen

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christian movie review dear evan hansen

  • DVD & Streaming

Dear Evan Hansen

  • Comedy , Drama , Musical , Romance

Content Caution

Dear Evan Hansen movie

In Theaters

  • September 24, 2021
  • Ben Platt as Evan Hansen; Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe Murphy; Amandla Stenberg as Alana Beck; Nik Dodani as Jared Kalwani; Julianne Moore as Heidi Hansen; Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy; Danny Pino as Larry Mora; Colton Ryan as Connor Murphy

Home Release Date

  • November 23, 2021
  • Stephen Chbosky


  • Universal Pictures

Movie Review

“Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why: because, today, all you have to do is just be yourself!”

Evan writes those words to himself. It’s part of an assignment given to him by his therapist—a sort of pep talk to start the day. Only, the day isn’t so amazing.

As a result of his severe social anxiety, Evan is largely ignored by his classmates. To make matters worse, the one person who does notice Evan is the school “psychopath,” Connor Murphy, who screams in Evan’s face after mistaking Evan’s awkwardness for mockery.

Before the first day of school has even ended, Evan rewrites the letter to himself. “Today wasn’t amazing after all,” he types. He wishes he could talk to Zoe (his longstanding secret crush). He wishes everything was different. He wishes he was different.

It would’ve been fine, except that Evan makes a terrible mistake: He prints the letter out in the school’s computer lab. Connor (who happens to be Zoe’s brother) gets to the printer before Evan does, and he sees his sister’s name in the letter. Again, mistaking Evan’s awkwardness for something more sinister, he assumes the letter is something perverted about Zoe. So, he storms off, letter in tow.

Evan panics.

That evening, he searches online frantically for the letter, assuming that Connor is going to post it to humiliate him. But his search doesn’t turn up anything.

A few days pass and still, no letter. No public humiliation. In fact, no Connor, either, as he’s mysteriously disappeared from school.

Finally, Evan gets called to the principal’s office. Connor’s parents want to talk to him.

It turns out that Connor took his own life. In his pocket was Evan’s letter. Evan tries to explain what happened, but once again, his social awkwardness prevents him from quickly telling the truth. Connor’s parents have assumed that the letter was written to Evan by Connor . And as their son’s only friend, they want to know more.

Evan has two choices: Tell the Murphy family the truth that their son had no friends and was disliked by all his classmates (including his little sister). Or go along with what they have already chosen to believe—and to invest in emotionally. To pretend that Connor had a friend in Evan. To act like they weren’t both the two most lonely people in school.

Evan chooses the latter.

Positive Elements

Some of the positive and negative elements of this story walk hand-in-hand. Evan’s lies were wrong . There’s no getting around that. That said, the story also invites viewers to see his intentions as being noble, too.

Evan didn’t want to break the Murphy family’s hearts. They needed to hear that Connor wasn’t a monster. They needed to hear that it wasn’t their fault that Connor was so miserable. They needed to believe Connor was a good person, however deeply hidden it may have been. And for a while, the lies really do help the Murphy family.

However, these good feelings don’t last. The truth eventually comes out, and it hurts . But it also begins the true healing process. Connor wasn’t a saint—his family knows that. But the agony he went through also wasn’t their fault. And though it certainly didn’t feel like it, underneath all that pain and anger, he really did love them. And they loved him too. And that’s something they can cling to as they move forward with their lives.

Evan’s lies had another unintended benefit. At a memorial for Connor, Evan gives a speech (which is eventually performed in song, since this is a musical): “Even when the dark comes crashin’ through/when you need a friend to carry you/And when you’re broken on the ground/You will be found/So let the sun come streamin’ in/’Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again/Lift your head and look around/You will be found.”

His classmates record it on their myriad smartphones, and the videos go viral . Pretty soon, thousands—then hundreds of thousands—of people across the country join the online community dedicated to Connor’s memory (The Connor Project), donating money to restore a run-down orchard that Connor loved and encouraging one another through the hard times.

Furthermore, Alana (the class president) opens up to Evan about her own struggles with anxiety and depression. She tells Evan she understands how some days feel impossible. But knowing that she isn’t the only one gives her hope that she won’t have to hide her pain forever. That someday, it will be normal to talk openly about difficulties instead of taking on the double task of managing pain and burying it so that nobody knows.

Some might wonder if the story glorifies lying in seemingly reasonable cases. But the film addresses that question clearly, as Evan faces painful consequences for his lies. He badly hurts many of his new friends. And, understandably, those friendships are dissolved when the truth comes out. Still, Evan learns from his mistakes and apologizes to everyone.

This confession-and-apology process also allows Evan to mend the broken relationship with his mother. Heidi Hansen is a caring and hard-working mother, that much is clear. But often, in her desire to provide for her son, she isn’t present in his life, working long shifts at the hospital and cancelling plans to hang out with Evan.

Heidi is understandably hurt when Evan starts spending more time with the Murphys. In fact, they almost act as if they’re adopting Evan into their family following Connor’s death—so much so that they offer to give Evan their son’s college fund, wounding Heidi’s parental pride even more.

But when everything in Evan’s life starts to fall apart, His mom is there for him. She sympathizes with his feelings of being alone because she went through a similar situation when Evan’s dad left. And she tells him that no matter how alone and impossible it all feels, she’ll never abandon him and it will get better.

As a final step in remedying his wrongs, Evan actually tries to figure out what kind of person Connor really was. He reads books that Connor listed as his favorites in a yearbook interview. He reaches out to people who might have actually known the boy. And he winds up finding a video of Connor playing a song he wrote on the guitar and sharing the video with those closest to Connor in order to give them a final piece of him.

Throughout the film, we see a sympathetic depiction of how deeply immobilizing Evan’s severe social anxiety can be. He won’t meet new people because he fears he will be too sweaty when he goes to shake their hands. His lack of confidence causes him to second-guess himself in everything . Likewise, we hear the painful details of Connor’s mental health struggles as well. Those aren’t good things, obviously, but the filmmakers clearly want to deepen our understanding of how isolating severe mental health issues can be for those who suffer them.

Spiritual Elements

Zoe says her mom was Buddhist for a year. Someone talks about having “Mother Nature’s” back. We hear about bar mitzvahs.

Sexual Content

Evan’s family friend, Jared, is gay and brags about “hooking up” with another guy over the summer. Jared jokes that Evan and Connor’s fake friendship seems romantic. He makes several crude and crass remarks to that effect.

Evan pseudo-confesses his feelings for Zoe by presenting them as nice things that Connor told him. Later, he and Zoe start dating, and we see them kiss several times. One scene takes place in Evan’s bedroom, and they sit on the edge of Evan’s bed together.

We see several shirtless teenage boys changing clothes in a locker room and one wrapped in a towel.

Violent Content

Connor dies by suicide. Though we never learn the specifics, it is the focal point of this story.

It’s clear that Connor is a troubled, violent person. He shoves Evan to the floor. We see several holes in his bedroom wall from when he punched it. Zoe recounts when her brother tried to break her door down, threatening to kill her. We also hear that Connor threw a printer at a teacher when he was 7 years old.

Zoe drives recklessly, speeding and taking her hands off the wheel.

A big part of the plot turns around Evan having a broken arm, which happened in an accident after he fell out of a tree. Multiple flashbacks show that fall from about 30 feet up.

[ Spoiler Warning ] Eventually, we learn that Evan didn’t break his arm by falling accidentally out of a tree, as he told his mom and everyone else. Rather, he purposely let go of the branch supporting him, hoping that the fall would end his life—a suicide attempt.

Crude or Profane Language

There is a singular use of the f-word and six uses of the s-word. We also hear uses of “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused seven times. A student sarcastically calls a teacher a “fascist.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Evan takes several different medications to manage his anxiety and depression. Alana later tells him that she also takes medications to help manage her symptoms. They name various psychiatric drugs, including Zoloft, Lexapro and Wellbutrin.

Several adults drink wine. We hear that Connor used drugs and went to rehab. Song lyrics mention “crack” and “pot.”

Other Negative Elements

As I said above, Evan’s lying was wrong . And although his intentions were noble to some extent, they were also selfish .

Evan wanted so desperately to be accepted—to be loved —that he was willing to fabricate an entire relationship with a boy whom he had only spoken to twice (with poor results both times). But what’s even more heartbreaking is that Evan wanted the lie to be true . He wanted to believe that he had a friend who cared about him. He wanted to believe he wasn’t alone . So much so that he projects Connor into a flashback memory of falling from the tree.

The one friend Evan does have in his life (Jared) considers Evan to be more of a “family friend” and constantly jabs at him about his social awkwardness. Evan texts his dad frequently, but his dad either says he doesn’t have time to talk or neglects to reply at all.

Connor’s parents argue about his death, blaming each other for their son’s misery. His stepdad is angry for a time because he believes Connor took his privileged life for granted. Zoe is also angry at first because she can’t remember a single thing about her brother that is good.

One of the problems at Evan’s school is how insincere many of the students seem to be. The same teenage boys who bullied Connor are seen taking selfies by his locker memorial after he dies. Many of Zoe’s classmates reach out to her even though they’d never spoken to her before her brother’s death. Kids who were gung-ho about the Connor Project when it first gained popularity stop attending meetings as other things take priority in their lives. And the only reason students were recording Evan when he gave his infamous speech in the first place was because they expected him to bomb and make a fool of himself.

Evan sends the letter that Connor allegedly wrote to him to Alana as proof that they were friends. Alana then posts it online (without permission from Evan or Connor’s family) in the hopes that people will donate to the Connor Project. Instead, many people start verbally attacking Connor’s family, blaming them for their son’s death. And although she takes down the post, the letter has already gone viral and it’s too late.

Evan vomits in a bathroom multiple times when he’s extremely anxious.

Evan and Jared create fake emails between him and Connor to sell the façade that they were friends. A woman makes a snide remark about her son’s stepmom.

“Dear Evan Hansen, Today’s gonna be a good day and here’s why: Because, today, no matter what else, today at least, you’re you . No hiding. No lying. And that’s enough ,” Evan writes to himself at the end of the film.

This film expounds upon the dangers of lying. The web of trouble we weave ourselves into when we deceive others. But Evan learns from it.

Nobody is truly alone. Not the kid who everyone thinks is a monster. Not the girl who hides behind her achievements to mask her pain. Not the one who feels overlooked in her family’s desire to help her brother. Not the guy who waited in the forest for someone to find him after breaking his arm.

Evan doesn’t have to lie to be seen. He doesn’t have to hide from his fears. Because no matter how isolated he might feel, there’s someone out there who understands exactly what he’s going through because they’re going through it too. Just “don’t let go. Keep going.”

Dear Evan Hansen has some foul language, sexual comments and mentions of drug use. But the way it handles suicide, depression and anxiety is impactful, especially for teen audiences who may be experiencing similar thoughts and feelings.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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4 Things to Know about De ar Evan Hansen , the Uplifting Movie Based on the Popular Musical

  • Michael Foust Contributor
  • Updated Sep 24, 2021

4 Things to Know about <em>De</em><em>ar Evan Hansen</em>, the Uplifting Movie Based on the Popular Musical

Evan is an awkward high school student who has a scarcity of confidence and friends. He struggles when he talks to strangers. He even struggles when he walks down the hall.

But Evan wants to grow in his social skills. So he follows the advice of his therapist and writes himself a letter at the beginning of each day, describing his dreams and his goals for the next 24 years. Each one begins with “Dear Evan Hansen.” And each one is signed, “Me.”

Tragically, though, one of those letters falls in the hands of a fellow classmate, Connor, who reads it and refuses to give it back. Connor even takes it home.

Three days later, Evan learns that Connor committed suicide.

And that letter? Connor’s parents believe it was a suicide note written from Connor to his best friend, Evan.

The two boys didn’t even know one another. But Evan – not wanting to trouble a grieving mom and dad – decides to cover up the truth.

The new musical Dear Evan Hansen (PG-13) tells the story of Evan as he weaves a tale that has a dramatic impact on a family and a community. It stars Ben Platt as Evan, Amy Adams as Connor’s mom, and Danny Pino as Connor’s step-father.

Here are four things you should know:

1. It’s Based on a Popular Musical

Similar to the comparisons of live-action Disney films to their originals, much of the criticism of the film has involved the (few) changes from the Broadway show. That’s unfortunate (and silly) because each has its strengths and can stand on its own. The plot had no major tweaks.

The big screen, he said, has its benefits.

“Because of the power of cinema and the power of the close-up, there are things that we could shine a light on and develop characters in a way with an efficiency that you literally cannot do on stage.”

That led to a “more intimate, more textured story,” he said.

2.  It’s a Gripping Ethical Tale

The plot of Dear Evan Hansen is as gut-wrenching as it is entertaining. It’s an ethical dilemma with no easy answer: A grieving family uncovers a letter Evan had written to himself but that Connor had stolen. They falsely believe Connor had penned it shortly before committing suicide. Evan’s initial reaction is to tell the truth, yet he has second thoughts when Connor’s mother and step-father explain how the letter brought them comfort. After all, they didn’t even realize Connor had friends. (And Evan, they believe, was Connor’s best friend .)

This ethical tale grows more complicated when Evan pays his friend/computer whiz Jared to create fake emails between Connor and Evan, and even more complex when their tragic friendship is used as the basis of fundraisers for a mental health support group and a memorial named after Connor.

Of course, Evan has ulterior motives, too. He has a crush on Connor’s sister, Zoe. He enjoys the camaraderie and love of Zoe’s family.

You empathize with Evan at the very same time you question his decisions. The film forces you to ask: What would you do?

3. It Gives Hope to Today’s Teens

Long ago, the popular ban R.E.M. released a song with a true-but-catchy lyric: “Everybody hurts ... sometimes.” That 1992 song encouraged the listener to “hold on” –  meaning, don’t give up – and to “take comfort in your friends.” It’s a message with a foundation in Scripture, which tells us to “bear one another’s burdens” ( Galatians 6:2 ) and to “encourage one another and build one another up” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ).

Researchers tell us that today’s teens are lonelier than past generations due largely to a social media-obsessed culture that turns young people into validation-seeking machines. Dear Evan Hansen reminds teens that everyone has problems  – even the school’s class president – and everyone needs help.

Christians can take that positive message to the next level: There’s a God who created you, loves you and has a plan for your life. He will never leave you.

From a faith perspective, the message in Dear Evan Hansen may be incomplete, but it’s a good start.

4. It’s PG-13, but not Over the Top

Dear Evan Hansen is rated PG-13 for thematic elements (including discussion of suicide), brief strong language (including an f-bomb – details below), and some suggestive references.

Evan’s friend Jared, who is gay, makes several suggestive comments, and at one point, mentions how he “hooked up” with a Brazilian male model. (Evan is not gay, and although Connor wears black nail polish, the film doesn’t explicitly say he’s gay.) The hallways at Evan’s school also have multiple LGBT-themed posters.

The film doesn’t reveal why Connor committed suicide, although it does acknowledge he had issues with anger.

Both Evan and Connor are bullied. The film forces viewers to ask: How would the story have been different if they had friends all along?

It’s a troubling-yet-inspiring film that can make a positive difference in the world.

Chbosky said he wants parents to realize that teens in today’s world “are navigating” a world that “is so drastically different than what we were raised in.”

He wants teens to feel encouraged after watching the movie.

“I want people,” he said, “to walk away with a sense of hope and a sense of being seen and understood.”

Dear Evan Hansen is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive references. Language details: s—t (5), d—n (1), h-ll (3), f-word (1), misuse of “God” (1), OMG (4).

Entertainment rating:  4 out of 5 stars.

Family-friendly rating:  3 out of 5 stars.

Photo courtesy ©Universal Studios

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press,  Christianity Today , The Christian Po st , the   Leaf-Chronicle ,  the Toronto Star and   the Knoxville News-Sentinel .

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christian movie review dear evan hansen

Dear Evan Hansen

Film adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical about Evan Hansen, a high school senior with Social Anxiety disorder and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance following the suicide of a fellow classmate.

Dove Review

The Dove Take

Dear Evan Hansen,  today could’ve been an awesome day, and here’s why: You deal with serious issues. But I wish everything was different and you didn’t cuss so much. Sincerely, me (the Dove viewer).

Dove Rating Details

None, despite references to Buddhism and Judaism.

Some kissing.

Two F-bombs, and God's Name is taken in vain seven times. Also, "d--n" and 'h-ll." Sexual innuendos in songs.

Connor shoves Evan to the ground. There's other evidence Connor ain’t right — namely holes he has punched in the wall. Other evidence we don't see — he threw a printer at a teacher as a 7-year-old and threatened to kill his sister, Zoe. Later, Connor commits suicide, though the method is never disclosed.

Students take psychiatric medications such as Lexapro, Wellbutrin and Zoloft. Adults drink wine. We hear that Connor was in rehab, but never see any illegal drug use.

Shirtless boys in a locker room, one draped with a towel about his waist.

More Information

Film information, dove content.

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Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, dear evan hansen.

christian movie review dear evan hansen

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In 2021, movie musicals are again the rage. “In the Heights” and “ Annette ” have already been released. “tick, tick … BOOM” and Steven Spielberg ’s remake of “ West Side Story ” are soon to follow. Back in 2015, a coming-of-age musical entitled “Dear Evan Hansen,” premiered on Broadway, and took the world by storm by winning six Tony Awards. Based on a book penned by Steven Levenson , it follows the eponymous character, a teen suffering from social anxiety, as he navigates a local tragedy for his own gain. 

Evan ( Ben Platt ) wears a cast to protect the left arm he broke due to falling from a tree. He wants to talk to his crush, a guitar-playing Zoe Murphy ( Kaitlyn Dever ). But his anxiety gets in the way. To diffuse his uneasiness, his therapist suggests he write peppy letters to himself addressed as “Dear Evan Hansen.” When Zoe’s troubled brother Connor ( Colton Ryan ), however, takes one of Evan’s letters, only to die by suicide, Evan is tossed in the tumult of a fractured, grieving family. Connor’s parents believe Evan was his best friend. But the reality is far different. Evan plays along with the charade, gaining the fame, adulation, and love he’s always dreamed of. All at the expense of Connor’s memory.  

Stephen Chbosky ’s cinematic adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen,” whereby a 27-year-old Ben Platt reprises his role as the teenage titular character is a total misfire. It’s an emotionally manipulative, overlong dirge composed of cloying songs, lackluster vocal performances, and even worse writing.  

The problem with “Dear Evan Hansen” is systemic, and the film operates on faulty ground. Connor’s grieving parents—Cynthia ( Amy Adams ) and Larry ( Danny Pino )—meet with Evan under the belief he was Connor’s one close friend. Evan doesn’t put up much of a fight, which is blamed on his anxiety. But he deepens the subterfuge by enlisting his friend Jared ( Nik Dodani ) to create fake email exchanges supposedly written by Evan and Connor. The correspondence paints a picture of the pair visiting Connor’s favorite orchard, Evan falling from a tree, and Connor nursing him back to health. Cynthia and Larry completely buy the distasteful con. In his duping, Evan is revealed as a devious protagonist, and the film follows suit. 

The Benj Pasek and Justin Paul penned songs, such as "Only Us," "Requiem," "Sincerely, Me" etc. are a ramshackled assemblage of garish arrangements and even worse lyrics that ring with the artificial tinge of a plastic lollipop. Likewise, there’s no amount of suspension that’ll lift anyone to the disbelief of Platt being a teenager. His very build and frame, especially his jutted winged shoulders, is that of a grown man. The one added benefit he brings is his malleable voice, a vehicle with the ability to discover pockets of hard-fought warmth where only cold suspicion exists. 

Platt’s vocal performance might soar, but his choices are not merely overwrought; there are an assemblage of tics and jitters that’s often played for laughs rather than real pathos. Platt reprising his role, on the other hand, is the least of the film's problems: his character is threadbare, and there’s no amount of experience that can add depth to Evan. His task is made all the more challenging because Evan isn’t a likable character. His unsympathetic rendering doesn’t solely stem from the fact that he lied about being friends with Connor. His rot takes root in apathy, as he exhibits almost no regard for the feelings of Zoe, her parents or even Connor.   

Almost no one in this movie feels like an actual person. The exception is Evan’s mother Heidi, played by Julianne Moore . Heidi is a single mom, working late-night nursing shifts to afford college for Evan. She desperately wants the best for him, even when he doesn’t notice her efforts. The musical’s best scenes revolve around her, the first occuring when Cynthia and Larry offer to cover Evan’s tuition. She’s proud. And you can see the gears shifting inside of Moore’s head before she declines. The second is the film’s most tender vocal, Moore’s Judy Collins inspired performance of "So Big / So Small." Apart from Cynthia, everyone else in this musical isn’t just inconsistent, they’re poorly drawn. 

The film’s big reveal hinges on the total betrayal of a character, Alanna. Played with a modicum of sincerity by Amandla Stenberg , Alanna is the Student Body President who wants to prove that she’s worth something. In a film composed of self-interested characters, she’s the most selfless. But the writing in “Dear Evan Hansen” is so wretched, so manipulative, it needs to undermine her by dragging her down with the film’s other feckless drecks. She ultimately takes an action that sabotages Evan.   

Compounding the frustration elicited by “Dear Evan Hansen” is how often the costuming, the set design, and other small details like props reveal the film’s seams. T-shirts and sweaters are hewn closer to Platt’s body to make him look younger, but they do the opposite. The bland homes of both Evan and Zoe aren’t at all lived-in, displaying very little character beyond a department store commercial. When Evan looks at his yearbook to see Connor’s favorite books, heady titles like Kurt Vonnegut ’s Cat’s Cradle appear. But Connor looks no more than 10 years old in the picture. Rather the reading list is composed of the stereotypical titles associated with suicidal teens. At every turn, “Dear Evan Hansen” takes the lower, easier route. Each time it does a disservice to the misunderstood group with which it falsely claims empathy. 

With “Dear Evan Hansen,” Chbosky aims to identify with those struggling with mental health challenges, but he and the source material only possess a superficial understanding of such travails. The worst scene (among many bad ones) is when Evan gets the recording of Connor singing during a group therapy session, sending it to everyone he knows. Who videotapes a group therapy session? Who then sends that footage? It’s blatant emotional manipulation on the part of the film. Chbosky's film concerns itself solely with pulling at heartstrings, and then stamping them into the saccharine ground. “Dear Evan Hansen” is a terrible, misbegotten musical with too little self-awareness to care how out of tune it sounds.

This review was originally filed from the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10th. The film opens on September 24th, only in theaters.

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the  New York Times ,  IndieWire , and  Screen Daily . He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the  Los Angeles Times , and  Rolling Stone  about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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Dear Evan Hansen movie poster

Dear Evan Hansen (2021)

Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive reference.

131 minutes

Ben Platt as Evan Hansen

Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy

Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe Murphy

Julianne Moore as Heidi Hansen

Amandla Stenberg as Alana Beck

Nik Dodani as Jared Kleinman

Colton Ryan as Connor Murphy

  • Stephen Chbosky

Writer (based on the musical stage play with book by)

  • Steven Levenson


  • Brandon Trost
  • Anne McCabe
  • Justin Paul

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Dear Evan Hansen

Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen (2021)

Film adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical about Evan Hansen, a high-school senior with social anxiety disorder, and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance after a cl... Read all Film adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical about Evan Hansen, a high-school senior with social anxiety disorder, and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance after a classmate's suicide. Film adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical about Evan Hansen, a high-school senior with social anxiety disorder, and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance after a classmate's suicide.

  • Stephen Chbosky
  • Steven Levenson
  • Julianne Moore
  • Kaitlyn Dever
  • 385 User reviews
  • 147 Critic reviews
  • 39 Metascore
  • 8 nominations

Final Trailer

  • Evan Hansen

Julianne Moore

  • Heidi Hansen

Kaitlyn Dever

  • Cynthia Murphy

Danny Pino

  • (as Daniel Pino)

Amandla Stenberg

  • Connor Murphy

Nik Dodani

  • Jared Kalwani

DeMarius Copes

  • (as Hadiya Eshe')

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Evan Hansen : [from trailer] If you knew who I am, how broken I am.

Heidi Hansen : [from trailer] I already know you. And I love you.

  • Crazy credits The Universal logo appears at the beginning of the film itself, underscored by the opening three-note motif from "Waving Through a Window," which is played at a slower tempo. The logo does not appear on the film's trailer and TV spots.
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  • Sep 26, 2021
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  • September 24, 2021 (United States)
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‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Review: ‘Wallflower’ Director Makes a Wince-Worthy Show Slightly More Relatable

Savvy young-adult auteur Steven Chbosky proves a smart choice to adapt the problematic stage musical, in which a lonely teen takes advantage of a school tragedy.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic

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Dear Evan Hansen

With “ Dear Evan Hansen ,” a divisive Broadway musical sticks its neck out in movie form, trusting a shelf full of Tonys to sweep it from improbable stage success to mainstream glory — except when does that work? In a year with a well-above-average number of musicals popping up on the big screen (“In the Heights,” “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” “West Side Story,” “Cyrano,” “Tick, Tick … Boom!”), “Dear Evan Hansen” is the farthest below average in terms of actual merit: a curve-crashing after-school special, dressed up with so-so songs (not so much show tunes as lightweight pop-music imitations), about how people process tragedy in the age of oversharing.

That said, your mileage may vary. The movie pushes all sorts of buttons — or “triggers,” as the kids are calling them these days. Where some audiences feel seen, others are bound to take offense, and that split is what makes the Steven Levenson-written show (with music and lyrics by “La La Land” duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) such a fascinating phenomenon. In theory, who better to direct the film version than “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” director Steven Chbosky, a YA novelist with a proven track record for capturing the teenage outsider experience (though Logan Lerman always struck me as a little too with-it to be a wallflower)?

“Dear Evan Hansen” rubbed me wrong onstage, and it doesn’t sit well with me now, despite a few smart improvements to the material. Baked into its DNA are three of the sins I find most irksome about young-adult entertainment. For starters, it uses suicide as a device. Self-harm is too serious a subject to be treated insincerely, whereas Levenson invents a character, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), has him take his life offstage, and then uses that tragedy to ignite the plot. Second, pretty much everything that follows hinges on one of those elaborate misunderstandings that could be instantly clarified by a moment’s honesty. Here, awkward, attention-starved Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) allows the boy’s grieving family to believe that he and Connor were best friends, cozying up to the dead kid’s parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) and getting intimate with his sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever).

Last but not least, the film casts actors born in the previous century as high school students. As in “Prom,” where the characters all looked old enough to have mortgages and children of their own, Platt, Dever et al., don’t convincingly pass as teens — and I say this as someone who adored Dever in “Booksmart” (in which she played a graduating senior). Actually, Dever is the best thing about this adaptation, which feels slightly less creepy in the lied-about-knowing-your-brother-to-worm-my-way-into-your-heart department, if only because Dever’s so good at balancing Zoe’s strength and vulnerability that the situation doesn’t read as a nearly 30-year-old creep manipulating a minor.

Just how old is Evan Hansen supposed to be anyway? There’s talk of essay contests and scholarships to pay for college, but Platt’s body language suggests someone much younger, though you could chalk that up to his way of capturing the character’s social anxiety, depression and possible autism (all of which are left undiagnosed here). We’re also told which medications he’s taking — Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Ativan “as needed” — which could be clues for those familiar with those drugs.

The movie opens with Evan freaking out about the first day of a new school year. Whereas an awful lot of the stage show takes place in Evan’s bedroom, Chbosky moves him through that familiar corridor of angst that is a locker-lined hallway and into a high-stress pep rally as the character sings the feelings he’s hiding on the inside — about being invisible, inadequate, insecure. No matter how popular most people feel in high school, pretty much anyone can relate to “Waving Through a Window.” But will they recognize themselves in Platt’s performance? The actor plays it agonizingly uptight, as if recoiling from the very peers whose attention he craves.

Overworked and under-available, his mom (Julianne Moore) has sent him to a therapist, who suggested the writing exercise that gives the film its title: Evan is supposed to address letters to himself each day, a strategy that goes south when one accidentally falls into Connor’s hands hours before the character commits suicide. His parents find the message and assume that Connor wrote it — a device we might accept in a classic comedy of errors, but which is hard to stomach in a more serious drama.

“Connor didn’t write this,” Evan tries to tell them, but they insist on interpreting the note as Connor’s last words. Maybe that happens. Certainly, the motives for suicide are rarely clear, leaving loved ones to deal with grief in their own complex ways. Adams is especially good at conveying Cynthia Murphy’s need to make excuses for Connor, to believe her son was a better person than others remember. In the movie, this desire compels Evan to go along with the charade, but never quite explains how deeply he commits, counterfeiting emails from Connor to make the family feel better.

Levenson has retooled the Murphy family dynamic somewhat, turning Pino’s character into a stepdad while preserving Zoe’s initial skepticism. She’s wounded by the way her brother treated her, as Stevenson makes the daring (but not entirely unreasonable) claim that “Connor was a bad person,” as Zoe points out — another way the script justifies Evan’s deception, by giving Connor’s mourners a more sympathetic version to remember.

In the stage show, Evan’s classmates were nearly as flawed as he was. Jared, his only friend at school (a “family friend” at that), was obnoxiously homophobic — which could be realistic, but runs counter to the faux-progressive values fans read into the musical. In the movie, Jared is gay (represented by “Atypical” actor Nik Dodani), which makes his jokes in the “Sincerely, Me” song land differently, and there are huge posters plastered around school with slogans such as “Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Let’s celebrate it.” The screenplay preserves its cynicism about how the social-media generation exploits tragedy (as when the kids who bullied Connor pose for selfies in front of his locker), but softens Alana’s character.

Reconceived as a cheerleader and an extracurricular overachiever who identifies with Connor’s mental condition, as opposed to a narcissist looking to ride his tragedy to glory, the new-and-improved Alana elevates the tone of the entire film. As played by “The Hate U Give” star Amandla Stenberg, she demonstrates the movie’s thesis that everyone — even those who appear to coast through high school, seemingly comfortable in their own skin — struggles with moments of depression and self-doubt. More impressive still, Stenberg co-wrote the song her character uses to make that point: “The Anonymous Ones.”

It’s one of two original numbers added for the movie, though the other — “A Little Closer,” by Pasek and Paul — isn’t especially good. Chbosky deploys it well, incorporating the song (which Ryan sings as Connor) into an extended atonement sequence, which is clearly the movie’s way of having Evan redeem himself. And it works. Even if the song’s quite forgettable, Evan emerges a more mature character. The team behind the film haven’t necessarily fixed all that was wrong with the show, but they’ve been listening, at least, and that’s a start.

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (opener), Sept. 9, 2021. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 137 MIN.

  • Production: A Universal Pictures release, presented in association with Perfect World Pictures, of a Marc Platt Prods. production. Producers: Marc Platt, Adam Siegel. Executive producers: Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Michael Bederman, Stacey Minidich.
  • Crew: Director: Stephen Chbosky. Screenplay: Steven Levenson, based on the musical stage play with book by Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul. Camera: Brandon Trost. Editor: Anne McCabe. Music: Dan Romer, Justin Paul.
  • With: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino.

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Fascinating and flummoxing, the ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ movie still strikes a chord

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Considering the stage musical “ Dear Evan Hansen ’s” titular wallflower at one point belts out the mantra, “All that it takes is a little reinvention,” it was perhaps inevitable that the creative team behind the Tony Award-winning show wouldn’t be satisfied with a by-the-numbers film version.

In adapting his own work, about an anxiety-riddled high-schooler entangled in a well-meaning lie, playwright-turned-screenwriter Steven Levenson doesn’t just refine “Dear Evan Hansen.” He reconsiders and restructures nearly every scene from the show, which premiered at D.C.’s Arena Stage in 2015, became a Broadway smash a year later and transformed star Ben Platt into an unlikely matinee idol. But amid Levenson’s overhaul and director Stephen Chbosky’s grounded aesthetic — both of which fluctuate between fascinating and flummoxing — “Dear Evan Hansen’s” foundation thankfully survives the stage-to-screen remodeling.

Theater review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ radiates charm and wit, and that’s no lie

Sure, the movie became an easy target for social media snark after its trailer prompted out-of-context jabs at the thorny plot and overblown critiques of Platt’s age. (At 27, a decade older than the high school student he plays, he’s reprising the role that won him a richly deserved acting Tony.) Yet, the moment Platt’s soaring vocals are paired with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s pop rock-infused score and layered lyrics, “Dear Evan Hansen” works its medium-transcending magic. As an empathetic examination of loneliness in the age of hyperconnectivity, Levenson’s plot machinations bring on the waterworks, as well.

Not much is going right for Evan when we meet him on the first day of his senior year at a nondescript Bethesda school. His caring single mother, Heidi (Julianne Moore), is too overworked as a night-shift nurse to fully perceive his pain. His closest friend, Jared (an amusingly sardonic Nik Dodani), barely tolerates his presence. Sporting a cast on his recently broken arm, Evan is a bundle of tics and trembles as he pops prescription meds, wanders the school’s hallways alone and pens a therapist-assigned letter to himself.

When irritable outcast Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) pockets the letter and later takes his own life, the boy’s mother (Amy Adams, doing a lot with a little) and stepfather (Danny Pino) mistake it for a suicide note addressed to Evan. That grim misunderstanding sets off an unintended chain of events: Evan plays along with the notion that he was Connor’s friend, first figuring he’ll help a grieving family heal, then shaping that fiction into a coping mechanism for his own trauma. When that purported bond spirals and goes viral, online communities reveal themselves as a beacon of compassion and a haven for vitriol.

How ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ became one of the most remarkable shows in musical-theater history

Although the story beats are the same, their rhythm is not. Platt modulates his performance, swapping his manic stage presence for raw vulnerability; it’s a different Evan but no less poignant. As Zoe, Connor’s sister and Evan’s crush, Kaitlyn Dever brings her wounded eyes and soothing soprano to a more fully realized version of the character. Alana (Amandla Stenberg), Evan’s overachieving classmate, imbues the tale with newfound nuance about mental health through the standout power ballad “The Anonymous Ones,” which Stenberg co-wrote for the film with Oscar winners Pasek and Paul (also known for “ La La Land ” and “ The Greatest Showman ”).

Chbosky shoots that number, Platt’s earworm opener “Waving Through a Window” and the irreverent rocker “Sincerely, Me” with appealing zeal, stretching “Dear Evan Hansen’s” world to locales that the stage production could never reach: a pep rally, a state park, a go-kart track. The “Perks of Being a Wallflower” director also brings a tender touch to “Requiem,” a heart-rending rumination on shades of grief, and Moore’s moving rendition of “So Big/So Small.”

Stephen Chbosky talks ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’

The commitment to realism, however, comes with trade-offs. The stage show’s stylish design — a darkened set illuminated by towering social media feeds — is more interesting than anything Chbosky achieves visually, aside from a fleeting flourish in the uplifting anthem “You Will Be Found.” By scaling back the script’s laughs and excising four songs (plus countless reprises), the film at times lands in an uncanny valley between the heightened musical at its core and the weightier young adult drama Chbosky seems to have envisioned.

As for its central moral dilemma, the movie ponders just how much good can justify Evan’s deception. Does “Dear Evan Hansen” let its hero off the hook too easily? Detractors — some thoughtful, some reductive — have argued that it does. Evan’s tortured soul loses plenty, though, all while enduring no shortage of self-punishment. An extended coda for the film, highlighted by a touching new song for Connor, further fleshes out Evan’s repentance.

With “Dear Evan Hansen” hitting theaters shortly after the Disney Plus taping of “ Hamilton ” won Emmy gold and a filmed version of “ Come From Away ” on Broadway landed on Apple TV Plus, one can’t help but wonder if a similar time capsule would have been the preferable way to capture Platt’s performance. Maybe so, but this is the send-off we got. As a postscript to Platt’s remarkable journey with Evan, from Arena Stage to Hollywood, “Dear Evan Hansen” still strikes a chord.

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains discussion of suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive references. 136 minutes.

christian movie review dear evan hansen

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‘Dear Evan Hansen' Review: A Movie and a Musical, But Not a Movie Musical

Dir. stephen chbosky – 2 stars.

Ben Platt and Julianne Moore star in "Dear Evan Hansen."

“Today is going to be a good day,” the titular Evan (Ben Platt) assures himself in the opening of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Like the Tony Award-winning musical it was adapted from, the film begins with Evan writing a letter to himself, a practice recommended to him by his therapist. He starts off strong with his affirmations, but by the end he is tangled up in his thoughts. He tells himself to be his authentic self, but not his awkward, boring self, and then berates himself for thinking he is awkward in the first place. Before he can get any farther into his head, he breaks into song and closes off the letter — which is later mistaken as a suicide note for another student.

The narrative, complicated but containing nuanced insight into the epidemic of teenage loneliness, makes “Dear Evan Hansen” worth the translation into another medium. Evan starts off the movie as a timid high schooler on a mission to have a good day, but his anxiety overtakes him in an encounter with Connor, who later dies by suicide. Connor’s parents find the letter near their son and interpret it to be addressed to Hansen, and suddenly, Evan finds himself lying to everyone about a supposed friendship he had with Connor. He makes up stories about their time together, like in the song “For Forever,” where he describes the late Connor and himself “quoting songs by our favorite bands” and “just [talking] and [taking] in the view.” He is pressured into it in order to appease Connor’s family, but the made-up friendship also represents what could have saved Connor, and an alternate reality that could save Evan. Eventually, we learn that Evan attempted suicide, and so Evan and Connor can be understood as foil characters, where one lived and the other didn’t; one succumbed to their story, while the other made up a new one to keep surviving.

Platt acts as an insecure teen overwhelmed by the modern world with tact and nuance. Whenever he is triggered, it sets off a harrowing sequence of nervous ticks. He constantly licks his lips and sticks his tongue out. He trembles, his eyes go wide, and sweat drips down his face. Platt leans into it with conviction — instead of aestheticizing Evan’s suffering, his mental illness is directly communicated and made raw, ugly, and real.

In the various musical numbers throughout the film, Evan breaks out of his shell, but neither the setting of the scenes, camerawork, nor his bodily movements match that energy. The camera is stuck in one place, such as a dining room or a kitchen, and it is fixed on Evan, with the variety of the shots only coming from different framings of him. It is possible the film does this to stay consistent with his restrained personality, which is noticeable even as he sings his heart out, but the choice ultimately prevents the story from taking on the merits of a movie musical. The camera is stationary and boring, the choreography minimal and suppressed, and the power of Platt’s acting wanes under the viewer’s relentless gaze. The shallow-focused sequences of Evan are too frequent, and eventually, the viewer is exhausted by the extreme close ups of his earnest face and quivering hands, wishing for a less explicit portrayal of anxiety.

At the turning point of the film, when Evan gets nervous on the stage at Connor’s memorial and breaks into the uplifting “You Will Be Found,” there lies a perfect opportunity to diversify the imagery of Evan’s experiences. The lights could dim and then when Evan reappears, maybe we could have seen flashbacks of him getting bullied or not picking up the phone for fear of social interaction. Instead, we see a repetitive series of shots of people just watching him from the audience, frozen like caricatures. Afterwards, this song blows up on social media and serves as the hopeful anthem that the whole film rests on, and yet it is captured with redundant techniques that don’t aesthetically support the power of the song. The potentials of film to elevate the story are wholly ignored.

“Dear Evan Hansen” does a decent job of transferring the narrative to the big screen, but aside from some minor rewrites, it really was just that. However incredibly Platt captured the essence of mental breakdowns, it was not enough to carry the lack of originality in regards to the mise en scene, character development, and camera work — elements crucial to successfully adapting theater into film. Stephen Chbosky has directed numerous coming-of-age gems such as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Wonder,” but never a movie musical, and it shows.

—Staff writer Nuri Bhuiyan can be reached at [email protected] and @nuribooyah on Twitter.

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Dear Evan Hansen Reviews

christian movie review dear evan hansen

I’m not familiar with the source material but I have no idea how it worked on stage… I could not get behind Hansen as a character making the entire film a giant mixed bag

Full Review | Jul 26, 2023

christian movie review dear evan hansen

When you are force-fed exactly what to feel and witness important social issues being used as placeholders for plot repeatedly without further investigation, you can’t help but question the sincerity of this musical flick’s messages.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Jul 25, 2023

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Dear Evan Hansen proved to be an adept adaptation of the original stage musical but ultimately disappointing in several areas...Dear Evan Hansen just proved that not all musicals should be adapted, no matter how successful they were...

Full Review | Original Score: 6.5/10 | Jan 21, 2023

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Dear Evan Hansen... I cannot forgive you for inflicting the worst movie musical since Cats upon us.

Full Review | Original Score: 1/5 | Nov 12, 2022

This film is a beautifully tragic portrayal of mental health – and the importance of each life.

Full Review | Jul 18, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Lively cinematography and choreography could never overcome Dear Evan Hansen's questionable narrative and wildly misplaced sentiments, or its misfire of a central portrayal, but so many of the picture's choices feel like it's writing hate mail to itself.

Full Review | Jul 8, 2022

Despite the plainness in Chbosky's direction... fans of the genre can find a genuine product that captures a time of sadness, crisis, and imposture. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Jun 22, 2022

Just another promising project sunk by Hollywood hubris, a mediocre misfire with a few good moments that never really had the chance at being more than that, but certainly could have been so much less.

Full Review | May 19, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

The film reeks of a group of people so in love with the original piece of work that they couldn't even see the flaws... There may yet be a way to save this material, this simply fine film version can't do it.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/10 | May 10, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

The obvious solution (to the age thing) would've been to repurpose this as a iHiding Outi remake, with Platt reprising the Jon Cryer role as an adult masquerading among teenagers.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Apr 19, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Platt has a chance to showcase his soaring vocal range, but has no chemistry with his fellow performers.

Full Review | Original Score: 1.5/4 | Mar 13, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

What we're left with is a hollow shell, a body snatcher that might resemble the show you probably paid too much to see live but nevertheless lacks its own distinctive personality.

Full Review | Mar 10, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Let’s be honest, Evan’s behaviour is less-than-gallant and rather manipulative, which doesn’t help Platt’s cause.

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/5 | Mar 8, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

With the makeup and vacant stare, Platt looms around the screen like the villain in a slasher movie, staring unblinking as people pour out their grief. A performance that should be sympathic misfires so badly that hes given the air of a lunatic.

Full Review | Original Score: 1/5 | Mar 3, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Most of the numbers are delivered whilst sitting down or standing still with next to no visual flair. ... Like, if you took away the music and let the characters just say the lyrics as dialogue, not very much would change. Thats a bad sign.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/10 | Feb 28, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

"Deciphering the film's aims quickly and frustratingly becomes our only investment, and its an investment born of dismay."

Full Review | Feb 22, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

The film lacks the necessary energy, style, and emotional resonance to really push across its themes and ideas.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/10 | Feb 14, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Dear Evan Hansen has an outdated perception of anxiety, depression, and suicide. It's shocking that this movie even got the green-light in this day and age. Dear Evan Hansen is manipulative, loathsome, and insulting.

Full Review | Original Score: 1/5 | Feb 12, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

Both for fans of the play and newcomers to the story, the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen is a complete failure.

Full Review | Feb 12, 2022

christian movie review dear evan hansen

It's bafflingly shallow

Full Review | Original Score: 1/5 | Feb 3, 2022

Review: Sorry, haters, the movie version of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ isn’t a train wreck

Two high school boys jog on a track.

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“Dear Evan Hansen” has already generated so many fierce opinions that it’s almost startling to discover onscreen the same disarming musical that captivated Broadway audiences and teenage fans everywhere.

Sorry, haters, the film isn’t a train wreck. This musical, which had its Broadway premiere in 2016, works better in the theater . But the translation to the screen is smoother than expected.

Director Stephen Chbosky ( “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” ) has a sensitivity to adolescent angst and carefully navigates a dramatic journey that is unusually complicated for a musical. The film cries out for pruning but the story survives the move into a more realistic realm.

Movie musicals are hard, and this one is especially challenging, but not because of the splashy numbers. “Dear Evan Hansen” has a few, but for the most part Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Tony-winning score gives voice to the whiplash fears and longings of children and parents caught in the funhouse of the social media age.

Maturity turns out to be not such a bad thing for a show that has done some soul-searching since it was last seen onstage. Steven Levenson has made both minor and major changes to his Tony-winning book.

Some of the smaller character tweaks are designed to bring the work into alignment with shifting cultural sentiments. But the overhauled ending, which sheds more light on the title character’s motivation without exculpating him, suggests the difficulty of what’s being dramatically attempted.

Ben Platt, reprising his star-making performance, plays Evan Hansen, a high schooler crippled by social anxiety who gets caught up in a lie, which turns a dweeb into a hero after the story goes viral. Platt’s Tony-winning portrayal — one of the more memorable Broadway breakouts in recent memory — conveyed Evan’s fragility with such expressive sympathy that it was possible to follow the character down a morally dubious rabbit hole and not be filled with regret in the morning.

The plot hinges on the fate of a note that Evan has been encouraged by his therapist to write to himself to improve his self-esteem. The letter, offering gentle words of encouragement, winds up in the hands of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a loner with a volatile temper, who is seen by his peers as the student most likely to become a school shooter.

Connor doesn’t bring an automatic weapon to the cafeteria, but he does take his own life. No suicide note is left, but Evan’s letter is still in his possession, leaving the impression that this friendless boy did in fact share a secret bond with another outcast.

Connor’s mother (Amy Adams) is so moved by this discovery that she and Connor’s stepfather (Danny Pino) welcome Evan into their affluent home. Raised by a single mom (Julianne Moore) who works irregular hours as a nurse, Evan is not accustomed to elaborate home-cooked meals and patient paternal interest.

But the real attraction is Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), Connor’s sister, with whom Evan has long been infatuated. Before his newfound fame, he was an apologetic tongue-tied mess in her presence. But as the lie about Evan’s friendship with Connor grows more elaborate, Zoe transforms from skeptical to affectionate. Evan’s confidence around her rises, though guilt and frantic worry aren’t so easily sidestepped.

This setup takes quite a bit of time not only to recap but to sit through — and we still haven’t even hit the crisis point. With all the tinkering that went into bringing the work up to snuff with the moral scourges of Twitter — who have criticized the show for lionizing a character they would still like to see more severely punished — it’s hard to understand why the plot wasn’t digested further.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is never going to appeal to audiences who demand that art rigorously enforce a righteous worldview. I find it ironic that I’m defending the musical, because it left me cold when I first encountered it off-Broadway. But the show improved on the way to Broadway, and Platt’s stunning portrayal, so resourceful in turning musical shadings into interior meaning, never left a queasy feeling.

A young man and his mother sitting on a couch in the movie “Dear Evan Hansen”

The film preserves this deeply inhabited performance, though the actor is now about a decade older than the character and youth isn’t easy to counterfeit on film. Compounding this issue, the camera occasionally pries when it ought to keep a respectful distance, especially in the film’s later stages when Evan is in the full froth of adolescent grief and terror. Platt’s commitment is total, but he needs more space and perhaps a less funny-looking hairstyle.

Fortunately, the changes to the script don’t seem like artistic compromises. The psychological elaborations may not be entirely necessary but they are in keeping with the spirit of a musical that wants, from the first strains of “Waving Through a Window,” to get inside teenage suffering and alienation.

Mental health struggles are shown to affect not only conspicuous basket cases like Evan but also model students like Alana Beck (a dazzling Amandla Stenberg ), whose overachieving nature (humorously lampooned on Broadway) is revealed in the film to mask invisible scars. “The Anonymous Ones,” a new song co-written by Stenberg, deepens not only the character but also the handling of a central theme.

Other changes move in the same humanizing direction. The role of Jared, Evan’s wise-ass “family friend” (he doesn’t want Evan to presume they’re actually buddies) and accomplice in exploiting what was initially an accidental lie, is now portrayed by Nik Dodani as an out gay teen. Connor’s suicide still feels like a plot device, but the stigma and sorrow of the character’s family is made painfully real. And Ryan, a charismatic performer, thrills in his ghostly musical returns.

Both Adams, who possesses a beautiful singing voice, and Moore, who more gingerly approaches her songs, imbue their maternal roles with overwhelming feeling. When they look at Evan, their eyes practically bathe him in compassion.

Their intensity recalls for an audience the high stakes behind the transition from childhood to adulthood. Evan is receiving an education, both sentimental through his relationship with Dever’s Zoe (who’s more complicatedly authentic and therefore better than a dream) and unsentimental through his eventual reckoning with the consequences of his inexcusable actions.

Too grown up for fantasy, “Dear Evan Hansen” offers a glimpse of the long, hard road ahead.

'Dear Evan Hansen'

Rated: PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive references Running time: 2 hours, 17 minutes Playing: Starts Sept. 24 in general release

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Charles McNulty is the theater critic of the Los Angeles Times. He received his doctorate in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from the Yale School of Drama.

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Dear Evan Hansen Review

Ben platt, you will be found wanting..

Dear Evan Hansen Review - IGN Image

Dear Evan Hansen will hit theaters on Sept. 24.

In the film version of Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt’s face is a problem. From his first close-up, his is undeniably one of a full-grown man, who has been comically miscast as a sheepish teen boy. No slouched shoulders or downcast eyes can hide that. Sure, Platt originated the role of the titular teen when the coming-of-age musical — and his portrayal — won scads of accolades on Broadway. All the same, allowing him to reprise the role in the movie is not just a major misstep, but the most glaring mistake of director Stephen Chbosky’s wonky adaptation.

The plot of Dear Evan Hansen feels like something out of Riverdale, audacious and disturbing with heavy doses of teen angst, hot button issues, musical numbers, and dysfunctional family drama playing out in a posh home. Even still, this movie can’t hold a candle to that outrageous series’ sense of style.

What’s the best movie musical based on a stage production?

In an unremarkable high school in Maryland, Evan Hansen (Platt) is a wallflower unnoticed by everyone. That is until a strange twist of fate -- after a classmate’s death by suicide -- makes him the unexpected center of attention. A misunderstanding leads the Murphy family to believe that Evan was the secret best friend of their recently deceased son, Connor (Colton Ryan). Panicked but also desperate to be a part of the world of this affluent, effusive family — that happens to include his secret crush Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) — Evan lies, spinning more and more elaborate stories of this fictional friendship. Between these grieving parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino), their wounded daughter, and the lonely boy, a fragile bond blossoms. But as Evan’s story goes viral, their shady solace is threatened.

This melodramatic premise is enhanced by the stage show’s songs, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. What Evan can’t dare say to the world, he expresses through belted ballads about his choking loneliness and unspoken infatuation for Zoe. Similarly, the Murphy family’s private forms of mourning are displayed through a three-part “Requiem.” Yet, the most powerful songs are those that speak most directly to struggles with mental illness. From the original Broadway Cast Recording, “You Will Be Found” is a showstopper, literally spotlighting Evan so he can sing about how hard it is to be alone in the darkness and the importance of community. Then, Pasek and Paul created two new tracks for the movie (“A Little Closer” and “Anonymous Ones”) that wisely give voice to the struggle of other characters, adding new depth and smart opportunities to allow the film’s other stars to shine.

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christian movie review dear evan hansen

In his numbers, Platt’s performance is Broadway big and bold. He’s got a gorgeous voice, but his force feels awkward in the mundane setting that Chbosky has created. In his previous film, Perks of Being a Wallflower (based on his novel), Chbosky effectively presented a sense of the energy and uniqueness of Pittsburgh and the dizzying high school that intimidated and enchanted his troubled hero. In Dear Evan Hansen, the town, high school, houses, and a much-talked-about apple orchard are achingly generic, captured in uninspired cinematography and painted in muted hues. Within dull grey walls, the showmanship of Platt’s singing feels out of nowhere. Perhaps if his hometown was special in any way, then Platt’s spectacular singing would show that Evan fits in more than he thinks. But as is, Evan is right to feel out of place.

Even when Platt is not singing, he seems on stage. His performance of youth is made up of practiced awkwardness. Every twitch and shrug looks rehearsed, as if Platt can’t shake the routine worn in from eight shows a week. Notably, he’s the only Broadway cast member that has been brought in for the movie. Sadly, amid a cast of much stronger screen actors, he is not a strength but a relic.

Co-stars Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan, and Nik Dodani are also twenty-somethings playing teens. They look more baby-faced, which helps. But more importantly, their performances feel grounded, not like they’re playing to the cheap seats. Dever, who has wowed in Booksmart , Justified , and Unbelievable, is riveting as a girl filled with rage, pain, and a glimmering hope for healing. Though playing an underwritten wise-cracking sidekick, Dodani proves a scene-stealer with sharp comedic timing and easy charm. As mysterious Connor, Ryan first radiates an unsettling fury. Then in song numbers (one in flashback, one a fantasy), he shows a softer and even sillier side that could make this part his breakthrough. Yet Stenberg proves the standout, taking a flimsy role of the seemingly perfect student and bolstering it with nuance, charm, and a soulful new song, “The Anonymous Ones.” Opposite Platt, she doesn’t just dazzle, she schools him on how to play a complicated yet compelling teen onscreen. Then, there’s Julianne Moore, coming to blow all of these youngsters out of the water.

Chbosky had the incredible gift of landing Amy Adams and Moore in dueling mom roles. Adams is reliably riveting, but Moore takes her only song and turns it into a soul-rattling monologue. For much of the movie, she’s given cliched working-mom schtick, desperately chasing her troubled son for any insights into his life or mind. It’s such a thankless series of scenes that I wondered why Moore bothered to sign on. But then comes “So Big / So Small,” in which Evan’s mom sings to him and Moore sinks her teeth into the moment suitable for a Best Actress clip. She is a true-blue movie star, and Platt pales in comparison.

Platt performs youth earnestly but unconvincingly. This is a huge problem, because without the constant reminder that Evan is young and thereby deeply naïve, the character comes off as heinously selfish. Sure, it’s understandable how he stumbles into this tricky scenario. However, as his doubling down grows darker and more disturbing, a close-up of a grown man with a furrowed brow and bit lip doesn’t soften the sharp turns of this troubling plotline. Admittedly, those who loved the Broadway show will likely look with kinder eyes on this reckless reprisal, but the suspension of disbelief audiences offer between stage and screen varies greatly. Simply put, Platt sabotages the film.

In Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt reprises the role that made him a hit on Broadway. However, he’s a bad fit for the banal setting that director Stephen Chbosky plunks down in this clunky musical. While Platt’s singing is stellar, his performance is a superficial impersonation of youth, which goes through the motions but doesn’t land the emotions. Platt is outshone by a supporting cast that includes Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, and Julianne Moore, all of whom offer exhilaratingly poignant moments. Though Chbosky’s staging is uninspired, the songs — both old and new — are nonetheless powerful, which might be enough of a lure for fans of the show or musicals in general. Sadly, Platt’s calamitous casting dooms this adaptation to cringe-worthy awkwardness.

In This Article

Dear Evan Hansen

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'Dear Evan Hansen' adaptation is 'a total misfire,' 'one of the worst movie-musicals ever made,' critics say


  • The movie adaptation of the Broadway hit "Dear Evan Hansen" debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday ahead of its Sept. 24 theatrical release.
  • While the stage musical was lauded, earning six Tony Awards in 2017, preliminary reactions and reviews of the Universal movie are far less kind.

In this article

On Broadway, "Dear Evan Hansen" was a smash hit. On the big screen, it's poised to be a flop.

The latest Hollywood musical adaptation debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday ahead of its Sept. 24 release. While the stage musical was lauded, earning six Tony Awards in 2017, preliminary reactions and reviews of the Universal movie are far less kind.

"Stephen Chbosky's cinematic adaptation of 'Dear Evan Hansen' ... is a total misfire," wrote Robert Daniels in his review for "It's an emotionally manipulative, overlong dirge composed of cloying songs, lackluster vocal performances, and even worse writing."

"Dear Evan Hansen" is about a high school student named Evan Hansen, played by Ben Platt, who suffers from mental health issues. His therapist has instructed him to write letters to himself to express his feelings. When Evan's classmate Connor Murphy steals one of these letters, Evan's life gets turned upside down. Connor takes his own life and the only thing found on his person is Evan's letter. Connor's parents assume that Connor had written the letter for Evan and wrongly believe Evan was Connor's only friend.

What starts off as an innocent misunderstanding spirals into an enormous lie. Evan claims he was friends with Connor and fakes a secret friendship with the deceased boy, ingratiating himself with Connor's parents. Evan begins to fit in at school and helps raise awareness about mental health issues through "The Connor Project," a fundraising initiative for suicide prevention.

His deception eventually unravels.

"Onstage, it's a tearjerker: a wrenching grief story for the grownups, and a generally frank examination of psychological issues that aren't really addressed in mainstream media to its plethora of young fans," wrote David Gordon in his review for Theater Mania. "It strains credulity ... We know it's not real, but we go with it anyway, and it provides a nice little catharsis amid the moral gray area as we buy the cast album on the way out."

On film, it's "a different story," Gordon wrote.

"Evan's actions, which we sort of shrug off after seeing it on Broadway because they're presented with hints of ambiguity, are truly grotesque in celluloid," he said. "He's a Machiavellian villain in a story where he's written to be the hero."

Broadway is no stranger to dark material. Shows including "Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon," "Assassins," "Sweeney Todd" and "Next to Normal" have all explored difficult topics such as death, suicide and mental health.

However, "Dear Evan Hansen" has always been controversial in the eyes of musical fans. There's no doubt that the stage production was greatly successful, garnering nearly $250 million in ticket sales since 2016, according to data from Broadway World.

Still, many have taken issue with how it uses mental illness as a plot device and Evan's anxiety and depression as excuses for manipulative behavior.

Platt, who reprises his role as Evan Hansen, which he originated on Broadway, was praised for his singing performance. However, many critics balked at his casting. At 27 years old, Platt is unable to capture the youthful innocence that would endear audiences to Evan in spite of his questionable actions.

"If there were any chance of making this character look like something other than a monster, it rested on emphasizing his raw youth," wrote Alison Willmore, critic for Vulture and New York Magazine, on Twitter. "Which makes the casting of an obviously grown man just hunching his shoulders an act of sabotage that's near avant-garde."

The filmed version of "Dear Evan Hansen" cuts four songs but still manages to clock in at around two hours and 17 minutes, almost longer than the stage version.

It's "overwrought and emotionless at the same time," wrote Karl Delossantos in his review for Smash Cut. It's "insensitive towards trauma and mental illness, and out of touch with reality."

"Undoubtedly one of the worst movie-musicals ever made," he wrote.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of "Dear Evan Hansen."

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First ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ reviews sharply divide critics

christian movie review dear evan hansen

  • September 10, 2021 8:00AM

Dear Evan Hansen (2021)

Fans of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “ Dear Evan Hansen ” were left waving through the window on Thursday night as the big-screen adaptation of the hit production made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival . But despite its lauded pedigree, an all-star cast that includes Oscar winner Julianne Moore and perennial academy favorite Amy Adams , and Ben Platt returning to his Tony Award-winning breakthrough role, many critics were left underwhelmed by the production.

“In a year with a well-above-average number of musicals popping up on the big screen (‘In the Heights,’ ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Cyrano,’ ‘Tick, Tick … Boom!’), ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is the farthest below average in terms of actual merit: a curve-crashing after-school special, dressed up with so-so songs (not so much show tunes as lightweight pop-music imitations), about how people process tragedy in the age of oversharing,” Peter Debruge wrote for Variety .

“If there were any chance of making this character look like something other than a monster, it rested on emphasizing his raw youth, which makes the casting of an OBVIOUSLY GROWN MAN JUST HUNCHING HIS SHOULDERS an act of sabotage that’s near avant-garde,” New York critic Alison Wilmore wrote on Twitter, referencing the pre-release talking point about Platt, who turns 28 later this month, reprising his role as a high schooler for the film.

For Vanity Fair , critic Richard Lawson also took issue with Platt and the musical’s overall message. 

“Evan Hansen need not be a lovable, nor even likable, character. But as the wet-eyed center of this bulldozer of a show, so engineered as an emotional wringer that would sell lots of original cast recordings (and now soundtracks), he is inevitably valorized, let to stroll off into the golden sun with the audience applauding after him, while a whole family is still devastated,” Lawson wrote . “This is a problem of tone, really, and of the ear-wormy, artisanal sugar of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ’s music, which dutifully gives the lead soaring, poptimistic ballads he doesn’t deserve.”

Based on the musical by Steven Levenson (who adapted his Tony Award-winning book for the film’s screenplay) and directed by Stephen Chbosky , “Dear Evan Hansen” is about the title character, a high school outcast who becomes a nationwide sensation after stumbling into a massive lie about his friendship with a fellow student, Connor ( Colton Ryan ), who died by suicide. Throughout the story, Evan becomes closely entangled with Connor’s family, including his mother (played by Amy Adams ) and sister (played by Kaitlyn Dever ), who believe Evan to be Connor’s only true friend — a case of mistaken identity that spirals out of control.

Even the acclaimed musical, which won six Tony Awards, faced criticism for its embrace of the Evan Hansen character who, in essence, deceives a grieving family. “The trickiest thing all along has been how much we’re on Evan’s side in this, how much we want to like him, how much we do like him and how much we want to forgive him,” Levenson told The Hollywood Reporter .

In adapting his production for the screen, Levenson sought to make the struggle Evan faces more practical. “When you’re dealing with film, there’s a lot less forgiveness in terms of what you can get away with, as far as human behavior and what people can get on board with,” Platt told THR . “You really have to understand, in every moment, why he’s doing what he’s doing and why’s not just standing up and yelling, ‘Everybody! Stop! This is why!’ So I think Steven, in the adaptation, made a real point of making sure that in the principal’s office [when his relationship with Connor, the boy who died by suicide, is first assumed] Evan is doing everything he can to combat it until he just can’t. And when he goes over for dinner, he’s going with the intention of telling the truth, and that’s very clear, but once again there’s a wall that he hits and he has no choice but to kind of go along with it.”

But while many of the negative reviews found Evan to be a character too flawed to engage with, not everyone who has seen the film thus far came to it in the same way. 

“The fact that a movie isn’t exactly the way you’d like it to be has nothing to do with whether or not it is a good movie,” The Hollywood Reporter awards expert Scott Feinberg wrote on Twitter. “I’m seeing a lot of reactions to DEAR EVAN HANSEN from people who don’t seem to get this.” (Feinberg also wrote the publication’s oral history of the movie.)

“Suspend disbelief beyond the musical tropes and snark about lead casting, it’s a moving and effective take with exceptional performances, that takes a sticky story and makes it work within the context of an emotional piece that earns its tears,” critic Jason Gorber wrote on Twitter.

“The absence of a more cohesive unifying tone is noticeable in director Chbosky’s nonmusical renderings, which also occasionally struggle to find an agreeable balance between the theatrical and the melodramatic,” added The Hollywood Reporter critic Michael Rechtshaffen . But, he wrote, “Despite the pesky distractions, Platt and company still manage to deliver the right message at precisely the right time.”

“Dear Evan Hansen” is out in theaters on September 24 via Universal Pictures.

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Review: In ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ a Lonely Teenager, a Viral Lie and a Breakout Star

christian movie review dear evan hansen

By Charles Isherwood

  • Dec. 4, 2016

As the title character in “ Dear Evan Hansen ,” a lonely teenager who inadvertently becomes a social media sensation and a symbol of the kindness that is often cruelly absent in high school hallways, the marvelous young actor Ben Platt is giving a performance that’s not likely to be bettered on Broadway this season.

What’s more, this gorgeous heartbreaker of a musical, which opened at the Music Box Theater on Sunday, has grown in emotional potency during its journey to the big leagues, after first being produced in Washington and Off Broadway . Rarely – scratch that — never have I heard so many stifled sobs and sniffles in the theater.

For those allergic to synthetic sentiment, rest assured that the show, with a haunting score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the coming movie musical “La La Land,” for which they wrote the lyrics, is already generating Oscar buzz), matched by a book of equal sensitivity by Steven Levenson, doesn’t sledgehammer home its affecting story. On the contrary, the musical finds endless nuances in the relationships among its characters, and makes room for some leavening humor, too. It is also the rare Broadway musical not derived from or inspired by some other source, which is refreshing in itself.

Evan Hansen, at first glance, may appear to be a stock figure: the misfit kid who’s too shy make friends and eats lunch in the cafeteria alone. But Mr. Platt’s remarkable performance instantly scrubs free any trace of the generic.

His Evan is a startling jumble of exposed nerve endings. His eyes blink in continual embarrassment at the twisted pretzels of words that tumble from his mouth whenever he has to interact socially, which isn’t often. He quails at the thought of having to make small talk with a pizza delivery guy. Underneath the thick layers of insecurity, however, Mr. Platt transmits the yearning heart and the desperation for affection — or even just attention — that ultimately gets Evan into deep trouble.

The fateful encounter that sets the plot in motion takes place when Evan is in the computer room at school, printing out one of the daily pep-talk letters to himself that his therapist has advised him to write. It’s snatched up by another loner, Connor Murphy ( Mike Faist ), but one with a mean streak. He snickers, stuffs it in his pocket and then, noticing that no one has signed the cast on Evan’s broken arm, mockingly scrawls his name across it in giant letters.

But we soon learn that Connor’s psychological travails run deeper than Evan’s. Not long after this unpleasant incident, Connor kills himself. And when his family finds Evan’s letter, they naturally assume it was written by Connor to his friend. In their bewilderment and sadness they reach out to him, hoping he can shed some light on why their son had become so remote and unhappy.

Although Evan tries to stutter out the truth, ultimately he cannot bear to tell them the real provenance of the letter, for reasons both compassionate — he can sense how dearly they want to believe Connor was not just the alienated kid he seemed to be — and self-serving. Evan has long had a crush on Connor’s sister, Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss). His growing closeness to Connor’s parents — Larry (Michael Park) and Cynthia (Jennifer Laura Thompson) — naturally draws Zoe nearer to him.

Evan’s troubles are compounded when news of the (fake) friendship spreads at school. An ambitious fellow student, Alana, played with the bossy eagerness of a classic overachiever by Kristolyn Lloyd, decides to start a fund in Connor’s name. When Evan is talked into giving a speech at an assembly, as the co-president of what Alana has called the Connor Project, his talk becomes a social media sensation. “Dear Evan Hansen” reflects how such platforms have become both a way of advocating for good and inspiring collective engagement, but it also suggests that viral movements may be mere mirages, and can spiral out of control, potentially doing more damage than good. (The set, by David Korins, is dominated by a series of screens that flash spasmodically with images of posts and tweets when the Connor Project spreads like a wildfire.)

As Evan becomes more entangled in his deceptions, Mr. Platt’s performance grows richer and more wrenching. We see how seductive Evan finds this newfound attention, but also how the knowledge of his duplicity is eating away at him. Even as he basks in a new confidence, he senses — as we do — part of his soul slipping away.

Under the superb direction of the veteran Michael Greif, the show has been subtly refined, its brasher comedy softened, and the performances have grown in delicacy. Rachel Bay Jones is immensely touching as Evan’s mother, who has raised him by herself and grows mournful as she sees her son entering the orbit of another family.

Mr. Park and Ms. Thompson are likewise excellent, indicating how bringing Evan into their lives helps heal their wounds, which, of course, only compounds his guilt. As Zoe, who at first resents the picture of her brother as a lonely martyr — he was nothing but nasty to her — Ms. Dreyfuss gives a sensitive, altogether lovely performance. And as Jared, Evan’s only friend, Will Roland provides nice injections of snarky humor, as he is corralled into helping Evan hide the truth by fabricating a series of emails.

Mr. Paul and Mr. Pasek’s score is woven with unusual seamlessness into Mr. Levenson’s book. And while the majority of the songs are soft-spoken, reflective ballads, with guitar and strings leading the way (there’s no brass in the small orchestra), they are varied and gently melodic, each opening up a window that gives a new perspective on the characters and their predicaments. Particularly memorable is the soaring anthem that closes the first act, and is reprised in the second, “You Will Be Found,” which becomes one of the rallying cries for the social media movement that the death of Connor — and Evan’s speech about him — incites.

Naturally, the story of a teenage suicide and a lonely young man caught up in a web of self-devised deception has its sad aspects. But “Dear Evan Hansen” is anything but a downer; the feelings it stirs are cathartic expressions of a healthy compassion for Evan’s efforts to do good, and his anguish that he may be causing more trouble than he can cure.

The musical is ideal for families looking for something yeastier and more complex than the usual sugary diversions. But then it should also appeal to just about anyone who has ever felt, at some point in life, that he or she was trapped “on the outside looking in,” as one lyric has it. Which is just about everybody with a beating heart.

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Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen review – ghoulish Ben Platt sinks high school musical

The film adaptation of the Tony-winning musical can’t overcome its 27-year-old star’s creepy teen makeup and the story’s wobbly handling of mental health

T here are two major issues that Dear Evan Hansen, the film adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical, cannot overcome. First, the decision to have Ben Platt reprise his Tony-winning performance as Evan Hansen in the film, the only original cast member to do so. (It seems relevant to mention that Platt’s father is a producer on the film; as Platt said earlier this year in defense of the casting: “Were I not to do the movie, it probably wouldn’t get made.”) It would’ve been one thing for the film-makers to have asked audiences to suspend disbelief that the 27-year-old Platt was actually a geeky high school senior – a little annoying, but fine, as almost every teen movie demands that anyway (see: Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, Jesse Metcalfe in John Tucker Must Die, both in their late 20s). But the team behind Dear Evan Hansen put Platt in prosthetics and opaque, pasty makeup, along with a curly mop of hair, that strands the actor firmly in the uncanny valley. But the attempt to make Platt seem younger somehow renders him both older and inhuman – an act of near-sabotage so distracting it basically renders the movie unrecoverable.

Which is a shame, because if a film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen were to be made, this version, directed by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) from a screenplay by the musical’s writer, Steven Levenson, would probably be, main casting aside, one of the better versions. With Chbosky’s slick direction, the show’s winsome (if abbreviated in the film) soundtrack and a host of A-list talent – Julianne Moore , Amy Adams, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg – the Dear Evan Hansen movie is by and large a good-faith, meticulous adaptation of the Broadway show. Which leads to the second insurmountable hurdle: a film version of Dear Evan Hansen only casts a harsher light on the story’s already wobbly handling of suicide and mental health.

To backtrack: Evan Hansen is a socially awkward, paralyzingly insecure 17-year-old who starts his first day of senior year with a written pep talk to himself, an assignment from this therapist. The note is intercepted off the printer by classmate Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a fellow outcast who interprets the letter’s mention of his sister Zoey (Dever), Evan’s crush, as a ploy to mock him. That is Evan and Connor’s only real-life interaction; Connor takes his life and is found with the letter, which his parents interpret as a suicide note to Evan. Stammering, desperate to please and feel valued, Evan parlays the theory into a full-fledged fantasy of friendship – one that endears him to Connor’s shellshocked mother, Cynthia (Adams) and stepfather Larry (Danny Pino), draws him into a romantic relationship with Zoey, and distances him from his overworked single mother Heidi (Moore). It also brings validation, when his false invocation of Connor’s memory goes viral, and hard-charging classmate Alana (Stenberg) creates a memorial mental health awareness campaign around one of Evan’s fake anecdotes.

The distance of the stage and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s enveloping, genuinely moving soundtrack allowed the musical’s darker, borderline creepy elements – suggesting blame for Connor’s death, Evan’s reincarnation of Connor through forged emails, the fact that the protagonist exploits a near-stranger’s suicide for popularity – to fade into the background of a great show. One can suspend moral judgment of Evan, firmly the sympathetic underdog, when his motivations, awkwardness and mistakes are routinely swept into absorbing song. That’s much harder to do when you’re staring, in hyper-definition closeup, into the face of the grieving mother, played with paper-thin fragility by Adams, as Evan lies about his friendship with her dead son.

Still, if you can get set aside the discomfort of Evan’s deceit and Platt’s ghoulish appearance, Dear Evan Hansen is a decently enjoyable movie musical, especially if you like the soundtrack, which remains magnetic. Chbosky’s direction grounds some of the potentially tricky aspects of adapting a musical to film – characters belting while in school, or long, searching solos, such as Dever singing about her lack of feeling over Connor’s death while careening toward a red light. The roving camera and interjections for Sincerely Me drew genuine laughs, as did several of the lines delivered by Nik Dodani as Jared, Evan’s only friend (and a “family” one, at that). The set is convincingly mid-2010s suburban high school, the Murphy’s kitchen believably rich McMansion everywhere. Dever, so endearing in Booksmart and heartbreaking as a disbelieved sexual assault survivor in Unbelievable, brims with vulnerability and frustration as Zoey, the most grounded character of the film.

It’s not the film’s fault that the medium highlights the story’s inherent stacking of the deck in favor of Evan with an ickiness the musical could maybe avoid. I cannot say the same for the casting of Platt as Evan. The movie asks the audience to not look at two elephants in the room, and unfortunately, no amount of soaring music can relieve that heavy a burden.

Dear Evan Hansen in screening at the Toronto film festival and will be released in cinemas on 24 September

  • Toronto film festival 2021
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  • Toronto film festival
  • Musicals (Film)
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