“Dear Evan Hansen” is directed by Stephen Chbosky (director of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Wonder”) and written by Steven Levenson based on his Tony award winning Broadway musical of the same name. The film stars Ben Platt (who originated the main role in the original broadway production) as Evan Hansen, a high schooler with social anxiety who gets caught up in a lie after the family of a classmate, Connor, who committed suicide mistakes one of Hansen’s letters to himself for their son’s suicide note.

When the trailer for this was released back in May, the internet erupted into mockery as they made fun of the hit broadway musical adaptation. The jokes weren’t necessarily at the expense of the plot, but at the expense of the lead actor, Ben Platt, trying to pass himself off as a 17-year-old high schooler. Platt, who just turned 27 at the time of filming, looked even older than his actual age according to the internet memes and whatever the producers tried to do to make him look like a teenager only made things worse. Already out of the gate this movie was getting some bad press before anyone had even seen it.

But that’s not even the film’s biggest problem. In fact, it didn’t even bother me that much personally. Yeah, Platt went from playing a college student in 2012’s “Pitch Perfect” to nearly a decade later playing a high school student, but Hollywood has always had a history of casting people way too old for the role. I mean just look at Stockard Channing in 1978’s “Grease.” She was 33-years-old at the time playing a high school student. Hollywood has done this for years so for me personally, I don’t see a problem with it in this film.

The problem “Dear Evan Hansen” has lies not in its casting, but in its message and plot elements as a whole. The titular Evan Hansen is not a good person. He’s an awful person in fact yet we’re kind of asked to root for him throughout all the awful things he does in the name of his depression and social anxieties. Essentially, Evan uses the death of a classmate he only had a conversation with once to get close to said classmate’s sister who he has a major crush on yet also never had one single conversation with. Then things spiral out of control and you have Evan talking about all the memories he had with the kid to over a million people on the internet and “finally’ becoming popular at school because of it.

Does the movie make Evan out to be a good person tho? No, not completely, yet he’s still not depicted as the villain he should be depicted as either. It definitely doesn’t show that what he’s doing is good, but at the same time it tries to redeem him and it kind of feels like all he really got was just a slap on the wrist. He essentially lied about having a friendship with a dead man for a girl and clout and characters still end up forgiving him in the end because of his own mental illness which definitely is not an excuse by any means.

The way this handles mental illness is all over the place. There are moments where it kind of works like with Amandla Stenberg’s (“The Hate U Give”) character of Alana who has a conversation with Evan about medications for things such as anxiety and depression which I think helps things like that become more normalized. Then on the other hand you have elements such as what lead Connor to commit suicide kind of get glossed over a bit. I think Hollywood as a whole as a difficult time handling stories that deal with mental illness and this is just another example of that.

There are elements of a good message and themes that the film could cover here that the film doesn’t go near deep enough. There is a group of bullies in this film that make fun of Connor on a daily basis, but after he dies they take pictures in front of his memorials to post on social media about how much they miss him. Covering those themes of the fakeness teenagers, or humans in general, have after the death of someone they barely new especially during the social media age deeper could’ve made this a whole lot better.

The film sometimes can feel a little too emotionally manipulative, but when the emotional parts work, they work really well. One part towards the end when Evan’s mom (played by Julianne Moore) is talking to him about his father, that works very well. Also almost any emotional scene involving Amy Adam’s character (Connor’s mom) also works on the emotional level its going for as well as the famous “You Will Be Found” musical number also hits hard on an emotional level and is probably one of the very few points where I actually teared up a bit. Although there are some cringe moments in this number as well.

The music in here as a whole is great and is easily one of the best part of the film. It’s clear that songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who also wrote the music for “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman”) are good at what they do. Even before I watched this movie I’ve been listening to a lot of the songs from the soundtrack on repeat because they’re just that good and catchy. Fans of the show may be a little disappointed that songs such as “Anybody Got a Map,” “Disappear,” and “Good For You” are deleted from the musical but new songs, especially “The Anonymous Ones” sung beautifully by Amandla Stenberg do help fill in some musical gaps. I will say that I, although I’ve never actually seen the broadway production, do feel that Anybody Got A Map’s absents is felt because I think it adds a lot to the two mother characters that we’re missing.

As for the cast, I do think Platt isn’t that great. Is his singing good? Undoubtedly, but his performance feels so off (and not because he looks too old). Like his character is supposed to be awkward, but he plays the awkwardness… awkwardly… if that makes any sense at all. For me personally, Kaitlyn Dever (“Booksmart” and Unbelievable) is the standout as Connor’s younger sister and gives a really layered performance. Amy Adams and Julianne Moore as the two mothers are both great and sell their roles very well. Stenberg proves why she needs more work than she’s been given after “The Hate U Give” and is for me the best in the entire film vocally. Nik Dodani, who plays Evan’s family friend Jared, is also perfectly cast as the one voice of reason throughout the entire film.

Overall, “Dear Evan Hansen” has a lot of problems, but none of it really comes down to the cast. The music is great to listen to, but the problematic message most definitely is not. “Dear Evan Hansen” is currently playing in theaters if you want to check it out.

Jordan Wooodson can be reached at jwoodson@thecabin.net

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