“Dear Evan Hansen,” a beloved coming-of-age musical written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of “La La Land” fame, opened on Broadway in 2015 and was reprised as a movie this year.
The musical follows the titular character, Evan Hansen, as he struggles to navigate his anxiety disorder, unintentional internet fame, complex personal relationships and the web of lies he creates regarding the suicide of Connor Murphy, a high school classmate. As the contentious plot is set against the backdrop of being constantly watched on social media in the 21st century, the core audience of “Dear Evan Hansen” is Generation Z.
The “Dear Evan Hansen” movie was released in theaters on Sept. 24, with Tony Award-winning actor and musician Ben Platt reprising the role of Hansen that he played (and won Best Leading Actor in a Musical for) on Broadway.
Prior to the film’s release, the trailer received mixed attention, consisting of half-excitement and half-dread from fans of the musical. The film had a talented cast lined up, with actresses like Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Amandla Stenberg and Kaitlyn Dever portraying the strong female characters in the story.
Many fans were concerned about Platt, who turned 28 years old on the film’s release date, portraying a high school-age student instead of passing on the on-screen mantle of Hansen to a younger actor, like Jimmy Award-winning actor Andrew Barth Feldman, who is 19 and played the character on Broadway.
Platt, in his response to the criticism, cited the classic movie musical “Grease” (1978), where almost every actor looked like they were in their late 20s and early 30s.
The internet frenzy and memes about this older-looking Hansen had me worried about watching the film as someone who holds the story of “Dear Evan Hansen” close to my heart.
While I have not gotten the chance to see the show at the Music Box Theatre in New York, I have blasted the Original Broadway Cast Recording on Spotify countless times and watched many a live performance on YouTube.
From the relatable “Waving Through A Window” for when one feels unseen and unheard to the hilarious track “Sincerely, Me” and the heartbreaking “Disappear,” the songs comprising the musical really resonated with me as an anxious first-year at Rutgers, and “Dear Evan Hansen” remains my comfort show as a senior.
Going into Rutgers Cinema with my friends to watch the film, I tried to keep an open mind despite how attached I was to the original iteration of the musical. Once I was done watching the film, I came to the conclusion that the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie was not as bad as the internet made it out to be.
Platt, despite his unconvincing appearance as a teenager, is an evocative vocalist and brilliant actor, imbuing Hansen with the mannerisms of a teenager with anxiety and depression. As Hansen walks through the hallways of his high school alone and afraid belting ballads about his existence, Platt’s voice can’t help but draw you into the complicated inner world of the protagonist.
Colton Ryan’s tumultuous Connor Murphy, a ghost haunting the story and actions of every character, is excellent when on screen but given little time to shine. Instead of “Disappear,” a song that intimately connects Hansen and Connor Murphy, a new acoustic solo number, “A Little Closer” weaves its way into the story’s ending. In the movie’s soundtrack, this song is covered by musician and producer FINNEAS.
Dever plays a resilient Zoe Murphy, Connor Murphy's sister, and particularly delivers during “Requiem,” which she sings alongside Adams and Danny Pino, who play grieving parents Cynthia Murphy and Larry Mora.
Cynthia Murphy, played by Adams, and Heidi Hansen, played by Moore, deliver as mothers of troubled teenage sons but are cut short with the gutting absence of the stage musical’s opening number “Anybody Have A Map?”
The moms of “Dear Evan Hansen” are some of the most charming yet challenging characters in the show, and I wish Adams and Moore would have gotten a chance to tackle this song together.
Nik Dodani, who stars in the Netflix comedy-drama “Atypical,” plays Hansen's family friend Jared Kalwani. Kalwani is as sardonic and funny as ever, but also not as strong a presence in the film as Jared Kleinman was in the musical.
Fortunately, the academically overachieving character of Alana Beck, played by Stenberg, has a much richer story in the movie than in the stage show.
Stenberg was given a chance to write and sing an original song, “The Anonymous Ones," and the song is a welcome perspective of a woman of color to the story and enriches the film's overall message on mental health. Singer-songwriter SZA also has a beautiful rendition of this song on the film’s soundtrack.
Other features on the soundtrack include the romantic duet “Only Us” sung by Carrie Underwood and Dan + Shay, “You Will Be Found” by Sam Smith and Summer Walker and “Waving Through A Window” by Tori Kelly.
The freedom that the medium of film gives “Dear Evan Hansen” over that of the theater is that we get to see a lot more of what goes on inside Hansen's head and what informs the many problematic decisions he makes throughout the film. For example, the repetition of the forest imagery and Hansen replaying a key scene in his head gives us more insight into his crippling anxiety.
This tearjerker of a film runs for a whopping 137 minutes and fulfills what the original story of Hansen set out to do. While I noted and felt the absence of some songs, the movie works as a whole and hits every emotion it is supposed to. If you enjoy a good musical (or a good cry) every now and then, “Dear Evan Hansen” is worth a watch.
Hansen is an irrevocably human character. He's at times spineless, selfish and sad, yet he represents something hopeful and happy for those who struggle with their mental and emotional health. To me, his story is worth telling and listening to time and again and reminds us that we are not alone.
To learn more about mental health resources at Rutgers University—New Brunswick, please visit the Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) website.