With an irresponsible portrayal of mental health and a rushed plot, Stephen Chbosky’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” released on September 24, 2021, disappoints as both an adaptation and a film. The movie stars Ben Platt—reprising his titular role from the original musical— alongside actors Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Colton Ryan, and Julianne Moore. Mirroring the plot of the acclaimed production released in 2015, “Dear Evan Hansen” centers around a high school senior who suffers from social anxiety disorder. After a letter he writes as a therapy exercise falls into the hands of a student who takes his own life, Evan gets caught into a web of lies and deception. Caution: spoilers ahead.
Where “Dear Evan Hansen” fails most as a film is in its inadequate depiction of mental health disorders. At the beginning of the movie, Evan seems overwhelmed by his social anxiety—his narration is panicked, and he can barely coherently communicate with anyone on his first day of school. However, these indicators of his anxiety fade away as the movie progresses, with no logical explanation as to why. Additionally, even though Evan’s therapist, Dr. Sherman, is mentioned occasionally, there is never a single counseling session shown on screen, which could have added insight into Evan’s struggles.
This jarring pacing is not specific to one scene—the rushed developments are extended throughout the entire film. Take the relationship between Evan and Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever): Zoe is the sister of Connor (Colton Ryan), the student who took his life, and Evan’s long-time romantic interest. While a lot of things are strange about their relationship, the most confusing part is how they got together. When Zoe confesses her feelings to Evan, she tells him that she doesn’t want her brother’s death to be the focus of their relationship. However, Connor is the center of every single one of their past and future interactions. This hypocrisy, compounded by the lack of chemistry between the two actors, makes the relationship—and by extension the movie—lack depth and nuance.
Another flaw within the movie is the lack of consequences for Hansen’s problematic actions. After he reveals to the Murphy family that he fabricated his entire friendship with Connor, he also announces the news on numerous social media platforms. However, the backlash he must have received goes relatively unmentioned, which was something the movie didn’t delve deeper into. And while Zoe and Evan break up, their attitude towards each other feels too neutral for all of Evan’s deceit and manipulation. The film also fails to mention that Evan’s action —exploiting a family for self-validation and personal gain—were inherently problematic, albeit accidental. With a lack of context or a tangible apology, the theme of growth intended to be emphasized is completely undermined.
Perhaps all of these issues pertain to a bigger, more inherent problem: a failure in transitioning from a musical to a big studio film. While the original production transitions seamlessly from dialogue to song, the film integrates the two poorly, making each song feel out of place. This is only exacerbated by Platt’s awkward lip-syncing and overacting. The emotion in his voice is starkly contrasted by his facial expressions, sometimes blank and monotone in one scene and overly dramatic the next. While this would have been almost impossible to achieve by singing and acting live, this more artificial setting cheapens the movie’s quality.
“Dear Evan Hansen” receives 2 out of 5 stars as a sloppily-produced film that fails to advocate important themes such as mental health and accountability for wrongdoing. While attempting to instill the elements of the original musical into the adaptation, the strained, forced acting makes scenes feel hurried and unwatchable. Any potential avenues the movie could have elaborated on are left completely unexplored, and instead make the movie inherently problematic.