Dear “Dear Evan Hansen”

A (mostly) spoiler-free look at some musical-to-movie issues

With multiple Broadway musicals having hit the big screen over the last year, I decided to take a look at the most recent release. 

“Dear Evan Hansen” follows the main character, Evan Hansen, as he loses himself in a web of lives involving a dead teenager, a grieving family and his own depression. While the plot is certainly interesting, there are multiple things that made the movie disappointing. 

Starting with the casting; Evan Hansen was played by Ben Platt, who also played the character in the original Broadway production. While having the original actor reprise his role for the film adaptation may seem like a good idea, I feel that it caused some issues. 

Platt turned 28 this year, while the character he was playing was a high school senior. The wardrobe department certainly dressed Platt like a high schooler, but the ten years he had on his character still showed. This messed with the immersion of the film and caused me to laugh at times. Platt looked very out of place in many of the shots in the film. 

The rest of the characters were cast very well. Colton Ryan, who played Connor Murphy, looked like he could be a high school senior, despite being 26. Kaitlyn Dever, who played Connor’s younger sister, Zoe, also looked like she could be in high school. 

Next is the acting. None of the acting was bad, per se, it just felt wrong. Many of the actors in the film had lots of experience and were actually very good, however, Platt’s acting sometimes made me laugh in the theater while I was watching the film. 

Stage acting and film acting are very different. When one is acting on a stage, they have to exaggerate their facial expressions and movement, so that the feelings and actions don’t get lost in the distance between the actor and the audience. I feel that Platt, being used to playing the character on a stage, brought these exaggerations to the big screen.  

Platt’s portrayal of Evan Hansen in the film led to an interesting display of mental illness that left me confused for most of the film. In the beginning of the film, Hansen is constantly stuttering, avoiding eye contact and not quite grasping social cues, among other things.  

To me, it felt like Platt was portraying Hansen as being on the autism spectrum, rather than suffering from depression and anxiety. Having suffered from depression myself and witnessing people on the autism spectrum, it felt like the behavior lined up more with autism. I recommend reading the review of the film by Jorik Mol, who has autism, to get a better understanding of the connection. 

Finally, the exclusion of certain songs, mainly the opening number “Anybody Have a Map,” made the film lose some of the connection to the original Broadway musical. The opening number in the musical helps to establish the theme of motherhood and parenting. This is completely absent from the film, which begins with the musical’s second song, “Waving Through A Window.” 

Despite some of my issues with the movie, I’m glad that it was made. Musicals are slowly being adapted into feature films, allowing a whole new audience to experience them. Issues are bound to pop up when you’re moving a story from a stage to a screen. Any way to get the issues worked out now, means better film adaptations in the future.

Ben Platt in “Dear Evan Hansen.” Universal Pictures