Dear Evan Hansen, Please Stop

Culture

Please, just stop.

Stop making movie musicals.

When you do, it’s my job to review them, and I hate reviewing them because I hate them all. It raises my blood pressure, and all this negativity does nothing to alleviate the internet from it. But what can a girl do?

It has to be an honest review; I must preserve my credibility as a movie musical hater.

Yes, it’s important to distinguish between the two — I love musicals. I hate movie musicals because they are often directed by people who have no knowledge, experience, or love of musicals. So it’s always dull at best and a disaster at worst.

And boy, did this movie bore me to the death of my movie-musical-cinematic-hope.

Passion and quality matter more than money

Did you know that RMS Titanic was already a wreck upon leaving the docks of Southampton? There had been a fire in the mailroom just a few nights before the official sail date. The operators were not given enough time to properly learn how the ship of such unprecedented proportions worked. It was actually a miracle that it took an iceberg and two hours to destroy it instead of someone flicking a finger at it and going: Bing!

But alas, The White Star Line Ships had all its fortune on the line, and they needed to get this thing to the United States in a record time. Everyone knows what followed. Jack drowned, and Rose threw the diamond into the ocean.

Or, similarly, our friends in the east (just to prove a point that it’s not a matter of nationality, idiotism, and greed are illnesses that don’t discriminate) decided to run a test on an RBMK reactor with a poisoned core because promotions were on the line. And now we have half of Europe waving to us across the ocean with their newly grown third hands.

Then take Moulin Rouge, for example. A passion project that had absolutely no active For Your Consideration Campaign in place, but cast both in acting and producing roles people with a unique understanding of a musical spectacle. And there you have it, Oscar nominations, box office hit, an instant classic.

Whether it’s a severe misjudgment that causes catastrophes of massive proportions and a significant loss of life, or just an egoism propelled by a desire for financial advancement that ends with giving Zara Miller and everyone else who loves Dear Evan Hansen a massive headache — running a project when you don’t have the experience or passion for it, will not result in making bank. It will result in people dragging you.

So who is responsible for this movie adaptation? Mainly Ben Platt’s father, Marc Platt, a guy who bought the movie rights before his son had aged out of the titular role (spoiler alert, he already did), and Stephen Chbosky, the king of angst, an author, who previously directed the Perks of Being a Wallflower, also a movie that nearly killed me with its terrible pacing and lackluster understanding of how teenagers act and talk and exist.

And that’s Dear Evan Hansen in a nutshell but add musical numbers, and you’ve got yourself the most bizarre experience I’ve had watching a movie in a while.

The Curious Case of serious musicals

Musicals are defined by their grandeur, their extroverted-ness. Let's say the story it tells does not describe a sad, serious, or particularly overt event. In that case, it must be saved by the spectacle of music or choreography because that’s the essence of a musical. The emotion is too overwhelming to put into spoken dialogue, so it must be set to music.

I can exempt myself from those who compare the stage version to the movie version of Dear Evan Hansen because I have not seen it on Broadway. I’ve seen some live performances Ben Platt did during the promo time on talk shows, and I listened to the soundtrack, but bottom line, I can only judge the cinematic experience because that’s the only one I have had — which means I can be objective.

And objectively speaking, this is a terrible script to be put to a musical. I can see how it can (and does, based on its vast success) work on stage. Once again, just as many movie musicals before Dear Evan Hansen, it lacks personality. And it’s next to impossible giving stylization to a story that wants to (and needs to) be grounded in realism.

Evan is a depressed teenager from a broken home that gets caught in a heart-breaking mess of his schoolmate's, Connor Murphy’s, suicide. Someone who Evan barely talked to, but due to an accidental run-in and exchange of a few words, Evan gets mistaken for Connor’s best friend and becomes Connor’s parents’ greatest solace during a time of their custom-made hell.

I mean, when you lose a significant other, you become a widow/widower. When you lose parents, you become an orphan, but when you lose a child, it’s so horrific we don’t even have a name for it.

So Evan wasn’t Connor’s best friend by a long shot, and is now cashing in on the misunderstanding by transforming himself from an entitled weirdo with a mental illness (we’ll get to that later) to a role model, a pinnacle of empathy and advocate for promoting the positive image in the mental health community — gaining popularity, followers, appraisal and moreover, Connor’s sister’s affection; a girl he’s been in love with for ages.

Yeah, exactly. It’s messed up. This kind of story would generally be your average Oscar-bait material — just throw in Casey Affleck with a scraggly beard or a gay best friend who’s bullied, and you’ve got an Oscar winner. But Dear Evan Hansen displays no nuanced cinematography and beats you over the head with how sad everyone is.

Down to the dialogue, the costumes, the camera filters, the songs — everything is done on a one-note basis, you can barely distinguish who the protagonists and antagonists are. The main trait of everyone's character in a musical should first and foremost be an establishing song that shows their world is musical. An ensemble opening number that is MIA in this movie adaptation.

And it could have totally worked if they scratched everyone else’s songs, and made Evan the only one who sings, maybe as a metaphor for his state of mind, how lonely he feels — the music could have served as his imaginary world. But then again, someone well-versed in the musical genre would have had to be steering the wheel, which is clearly not what's happening here.

Mental illness Rarely screams

We all know that Steven Chbosky has become a residential mental illness letter-receiver. Thanks to his 1999 book The Perks of Being a Wallflower that he later turned into a movie, Chbosky has accepted the role of a societal stigma chain-breaker and thought-leader on teenage mental illness. And as much as I didn’t like the film, I did adore Logan Lerman’s spot-on portrayal of a traumatized, mentally ill Charlie.

So maybe Chbosky should have directed Ben Platt the same way he directed Logan Lerman. Because whatever mental disorder Evan struggles with, it’s not depression, and it’s not anxiety. Anxiety and depression are not a rash; they can’t be seen; they can only be felt. And they can only be felt by individuals who have to live with them.

People who suffer from depression and anxiety are the best actors on the planet. They’re often cheerful, optimistic, extroverted on the outside because they dread being discovered as mentally ill. Ben Platt’s overacting may work for his character in Ryan Murphy’s Politician, but let me tell you, it ain’t working here.

One, he is a stage actor, and either didn’t do his homework on film acting or thought it was a good idea to play Evan as if he had Asperger’s (or possibly autism) instead of depression or just didn’t care. And two, he is surrounded by a cast of exceptional film actors like Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Danny Pino, who know how subtly the pain needs to be portrayed on screen; otherwise, it will come off as goofy and distracting, which is precisely what happened with Evan Hansen.

And it brings me to the most glaring issue.

When The hero is a jerk

Writers avoid the trope of ambiguous characterization of their hero’s portrayals like the plague because it’s hard to do and easy to screw up. A protagonist is someone your audience has to love, has to root for, has to fall in love with, has to care about. And when your hero is a jerk at the core, you need an incredible amount of writing talent to balance out his personality.

Harry Potter is an arrogant, bumbling idiot. He calls himself a wizard yet can barely use his wand to do anything. He’s not popular. He’s a weirdo who talks to snakes. But he’s also a fearless guy who never hesitates to put his life on the line for his friends and the collective good of the world he loves.

Alexander Hamilton is a terrible person. If a migraine ever came to life, it would probably personify this dude. He’s a selfish, narcissistic workaholic. But he’s also charming, a genius, a war hero, and has the love of the most respected man in the country.

Evan has none of that. And it’s not because he is mentally ill. He’s just a jerk. He treats his hardworking single mom, who encourages (and can barely afford) his therapy sessions like a mop. He talks to exactly one person at school so condescendingly that fifteen minutes into the film, I have no idea why Jared even bothers talking to Evan.

If that wasn’t enough, he emotionally and societally profiteers from a lie about a schoolmate who committed suicide. He has no redeeming qualities.

With that being said, Evan is technically a child.

A disturbed young boy who probably doesn’t realize the gravity of his behavior. And the movie takes away the one thing that salvages this type of narrative by casting Ben Platt in the titular role.

Has Anyone in Hollywood ever seen a real-life teenager?

Let me state for everyone to hear that I love Ben Platt. I watched the recording of the live concert at Radio City on Netflix. I buy his music religiously, I follow his career, and I adore his voice. I don’t think that this man sang or will ever sing an off-key note in his life. And that’s my point.

He’s a man. Not a teenager. And it’s evident, no matter how hard they try to CGI de-age him. He’s a grown man playing an impossibly difficult to a like character whose only saving grace is that he’s a teen who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

So when you take away that, put a cherry on top by awkwardly staging musical numbers that don’t work on screen and surround him with characters that are way more complex, sympathetic, and nuanced, such as Alana, then no wonder people hate it.

Yes, in Hollywood, teenagers are played by adults, and we rarely care. Well, we don't care and only make fun of it on the side when it's not distracting. When the plot and the empathy for the character are rooted in his age, it's kind of a problem.

Ben made a cardinal mistake by accepting the role and even worse by declaring: “The movie wouldn’t have been made without me.”

I adore you, dude, but you are not bigger than the art. No one is. The art won you the Tony at 22 years of age, not you. Aaron Tveit is just as musically gifted and had been waiting for his Tony for fifteen years because there wasn’t a project grand enough, popular enough, striking enough, to earn him one until Moulin Rouge came along. So maybe let’s take it down a notch.

I can understand how being propelled to stardom at a young age can mess with your humility and self-awareness, but perhaps Ben should have taken advice from Elsa and Let It Go. He also stated that living in Evan's mind was hell.

If it felt like hell, then maybe you were pushing too hard, dude.

Suppose Ben’s dad is so proud that he couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role but his son who originated it on Broadway. In that case, Ben should have been the self-aware one and turned it down, because audiences certainly can imagine someone else playing it.

You know it’s bad when not even the marvelous soundtrack and Ben’s voice can save it. When he sings, you almost forget that he’s 27, and you’re watching a movie that tastes like unseasoned chicken.

Neutral is the worst kind of bad

I can name 20 movies off the top of my head that are bad in an enjoyable way. Unfortunately, Dear Evan Hansen did not make the list. It’s not terrible, it’s not great, it’s 2 hours and 17 minutes of nothingness that borderlines on the offensive. Yes, Evan gets his comeuppance, he doesn’t get into college, he doesn’t get the girl, but when you start with nothing and end with nothing, it cancels itself out.

More than anything, this is a project that spurred from enormous hubris and hoped to cash in on the newest trend in Hollywood of turning famous, money, and record-breaking musicals into films. A trend that could have died with Les Misérables in 2012, but definitely should have died with Cats in 2019.

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What?

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November 12th?

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Which one?

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Tick, tick... Boom?

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Oh, just stop! I can’t take it anymore!

Zara Miller
5,000+ pageviews

Zara Miller is a published author, writer and blogger. She is a graduate of Middlesex University London where she studied International Relations. Her debut YA novel I am Cecilia attracted the eye of prominent speaking conferences such as Career Grad Festival and Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She writes for The Teen Magazine where she handles culture and student section and works for her publishing house New Degree Press as an author coach, guiding new talent towards publishing successfully.