There is a magic that emanates from the stage during a live performance that is impossible to duplicate in any other medium. There are many examples of this phenomenon, but one just has to sit in the audience to feel it. It has to do with immediacy, perspective, and the spectacle of live performance.
Many directors have tried to re-create that magic on film but have either failed completely or been able to touch a nerve in a small somewhat acceptable manner that created a different kind of magic that became good enough to make their film satisfactory.
In the case of the film version of "Dear Evan Hansen", based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical, there is very little magic at all. What was brilliantly captured on stage, the sadness of loneliness, the burning desire to fit in, the immediacy of self-discovery, even the poignancy of youthful discovery, gets lost in the overly long story that, even on the surface, is very hard to swallow. What the film does do well, however, is demonstrate the effect Social Media Manipulation is having on our younger generation.
Here's The Storyline…
Evan Hansen (Platt) is a high-school senior suffering from acute social anxiety disorder. To help overcome his condition, his therapist suggests he write affirming letters to himself. When a volatile bullying classmate named Connor (Ryan) confronts Evan and steals the letter he just wrote and then commits suicide Evan's letter is found in the boy's pocket and is misconstrued as his suicide note.
Connor's grieving mother (Adams) and stepfather (Pino) become convinced that Evan was Connor's best friend because of the letter, and confront him about it. It's at this point the lies begin and they become the catalyst for everything that follows. Oh, and…it's all set to music!
Platt reprises his Tony-winning role here, doing his best to look half his age, and still singing with his stunning voice. He's not the greatest actor, but in his defense, the challenges presented to him were Herculean. Yet, he seems to pull it off enough to make you believe it.
The biggest flaw in the film is the casting. Adams, usually a terrific actress is lame as Connor's mom, and Julianne Moore is sleepwalking through her role as Evan's mother. They should have used more of the Broadway stage performers. The rest of the cast, mostly playing teenagers, is relatively good overall and the music is very relatable.
My take… This is not a feel-good movie, but then neither was the Stage Play. It's rife with the problems facing teens today. However, the music is good and it's worth the watch if just for Platt's singing. I'd wait until they stream it to watch.
"Dear Evan Hansen" is Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language, and some suggestive reference.