Dear Evan Hansen has now arrived on HBO Max after landing in theaters with a resounding SPLAT. It underperformed at the box office, and critics sharpened their claws on it like it was the second coming of Cats. And like that furry fiasco, Dear Evan Hansen is a high-profile adaptation of a hit Broadway production; The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Stephen Chbosky directs, Ben Platt reprises the lead role that earned him Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards, and Amy Adams, Kaitlyn Dever and Julianne Moore have supporting roles. So should it have stayed on the stage? Does it deserve to be fired into space? Does it suck rocks and leave the acrid taste of stale paint thinner in our mouths? Should we nuke it from orbit, because it’s the only way to be sure? Probably.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Evan Hansen (Platt) is the awkwardest kid in the history of high school. The pill bottles on his dresser explain that, although the film never says what exactly the diagnosis is, so file it under “misc. mental illness,” thus giving Platt license to give the character a few dozen nervous tics and mannerisms that we can see from the back row. Evan has no friends, his arm is in a cast (he fell out of a tree), he eats lunch alone, his single mother (Moore) works all the time and his father is ghosting him. His therapist assigned him to write letters to himself in an attempt to build up his self-esteem. “Dear Evan Hansen,” they begin. “Just be yourself,” they continue. And then they fly off the rails into Neuroticsville, and you can’t help but feel empathy for the kid.
Evan’s crush from afar is Zoe (Dever), guitarist in the jazz band, and her brother is Connor (Colton Ryan), the other school outcast, a sullen and angry kid who’s been to drug rehab. One day in the school library, Evan prints out one of his [TITLE OF MOVIE] letters, for no good reason other than because the movie needs the physical plot device. Connor intercepts the letter, puts it in his pocket and vamooses, ignoring Evan’s pleas to return it. Evan nervously checks every social media platform over and over again, just waiting for Connor to post it and humiliate him. A few fretful days go by, and then we learn that Connor is dead. He took his own life, and his parents (Adams and Danny Pino) found the letter in his pocket. They believe Connor wrote it to Evan, and that their son had a secret friend. They thought he had no friends. They want Evan to tell them all the things they never knew about their late troubled son. And they don’t seem to want to listen to Evan stammer out the truth: They weren’t friends. Not even a little.
But Evan just goes with it. Please don’t ask me why, dear god, because I don’t know, although he might want to finally feel important to someone, and maybe, just maybe, exploit the situation to get closer to Zoe, like a total ghoul. So he starts piling up lies, kicking off his inhumane campaign by writing a series of phony email exchanges he says he had with Connor, and gives them to Connor’s parents, who should be in the throes of grief, but nevertheless seem weirdly perky. At this point, you may need to get out the ol’ Black and Decker drill and self-lobotomize (I recommend the ⅝” bit) to get through the rest of the movie, because there’s nearly two hours to go from here, two hours that include numerous egregiously earnest songs and a series of infuriating developments in which Evan digs himself deeper and deeper into his self-propagated bullshit. JUST TELL THE TRUTH YOU JERK.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Dear Evan Hansen is like Eighth Grade if the filmmakers chose to make a musical and wrote a tone-deaf screenplay and generally made all the wrong decisions.
Performance Worth Watching: I’ve enjoyed Kaitlyn Dever’s work since her memorable run on Justified, and she’s wonderful in Short Term 12 and Booksmart. Interesting how she acquits herself from Dear Evan Hansen’s mega-botched material, where stalwarts like Adams and Moore strike all the wrong notes.
Memorable Dialogue: I’d quote some lyrics from the number “Seriously Me” here, but it’s just too damn mortifying.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: One line of dialogue. One single line of dialogue would correct this maddening idiot plot and direct it into the realm of reason, but noooooo, instead, Evan is too Mentally Ill to do the right thing, I guess? I hope I’m wrong with that assertion, but it sure seems to be the grossly tasteless truth of Dear Evan Hansen — atop its use of suicide as a plot device, of course. Yuck. Yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck. Yuck. And the story builds and builds upon this terrible miscalculation, and its blundering depiction of mental illness, and its flimsy representation of grief, and its quaggy indictment of social media, and its thoroughly unlikable protagonist, who hopes all this will blow over, but of course it blows up, inflating like a balloon that’s just waiting to be burst so it can plummet to the earth.
Oh, and atop all this, the film’s a musical that isn’t sure if people break into song just as part of its fictional reality, or if the song-and-not-really-dance numbers are just narrative asides allowing characters to reveal their hearts to us. I stand flummoxed. I guess the songs are fine, if you’re into the type of plaintive sincerity that’s the equivalent of being repeatedly walloped across the schnozz with a sculling oar. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here about loving what you have while you have it, especially if the thing you have is a fellow human being. You know, don’t take shit for granted, asshole. That’s an earnest enough message, and one can assume that it’s well-meaning. But Dear Evan Hansen is phony and patronizing, with Platt’s embarrassing, and probably insulting, performance filling every corner of the screen. Everyone involved commits to the core tonal miscalculation, as if they don’t realize the movie is doing its damnedest to divide by zero.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Dear Evan Hansen is a grim trudging cringe that lives up to its reputation as a singular tonal failure. It’s woeful and Julianne Moore can’t sing and it feels like it’s a week long. I did not care for it.
— Decider (@decider) October 22, 2021
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