After gaining widespread popularity on Broadway, the Tony award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen is finally coming to movie theaters with its film adaptation. Ben Platt, who first played the titular character on Broadway, returns to the role for the film, alongside a star-studded cast that includes Amandla Stenberg, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore and more.
Evan Hansen’s social anxiety seems to define his life, preventing him from truly connecting with the people around him and leaving him to feel almost invisible. When a letter he wrote to himself for a therapy assignment is mistaken for his classmate Connor Murphy’s suicide note by Connor’s parents, Evan finds himself unable to tell the grieving Murphy family the truth. Instead, he crafts an illusion of a friendship with Connor, and when combined with his own desperation for connection, he finds himself becoming closer to Connor’s parents and sister Zoe. However, as one lie turns into another, Evan finds himself spiraling further and further until his lies are exposed and the relationships he built fall apart.
Having watched the musical on Broadway, I was ecstatic to see how Dear Evan Hansen translated to the format of a movie. I can say without a doubt that I was blown away by how powerfully the film came across in its depiction of mental illness and reminders of the persistence of hope through tragedies and mistakes. Audiences are sure to leave the theater feeling moved by the film’s strong emotions.
The characters themselves were certainly a highlight of the film. Each character was realistically flawed, and the audience sees them learning from their mistakes without being absolved of their wrongdoings. I felt this made the characters and their actions understandable, which helps audiences connect with them and even see themselves reflected in their thoughts and actions. The compelling performances of the cast emphasize the depth of the characters; each actor delivered a uniquely emotional performance that made the touching tone of the film resonate strongly.
Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of mental illness, especially with its effect on young people. I appreciated how the film highlighted how mental illness appears in a variety of ways by showing how Evan and Alana (Stenberg’s character) both struggle with depression and anxiety, whereas only Evan’s illness was included in the musical. The distinction between how the two experience and show the effects of their illnesses reminds audiences that mental illness manifests differently among the people it affects. By seeking to foster understanding about mental illness, the film calls attention to the important issues it presents by fostering empathy in the audience, which is a powerful way of getting its message across.
Despite the emotionally-charged material it presents, Dear Evan Hansen still manages to create an uplifting tone throughout, which especially comes through near the end of the film. When I asked about how this balance was found in the film, writer of the book of the musical and film’s screenplay Steven Levenson said, “I would say from the writing perspective that was always really important to us from the beginning — that we leave this story with some hope because this character does some really bad things and he makes some very bad mistakes, and especially knowing that young people were going to see this, we always wanted it to be clear that there was hope possible and that change was possible and that just because somebody does something terrible, even if its reprehensible, they can still be OK. So that was sort of almost like an ethical imperative for us as storytellers — we had to find a way to leave this story with some hope.”
Echoing Levenson’s sentiment, director Stephen Chbosky added, “That tone is something that I share with Steven. When I did The Perks of Being a Wallflower, mixing the light with the dark, the sad with the funny was honestly the point because it is true to life. Steven is a very funny writer. He really knows how to write a joke and find the humor in all situations, and so it was very easy for me as director to translate that, because I fully share that approach to tone and it was a blast to execute.”
Overall, Dear Evan Hansen transitions from a touching musical into a film that is sure to take audiences on an emotional journey. Raising awareness about mental illnesses and reflecting the balance between hope and despair that so many of us face, this film is one that you don’t want to miss.
Dear Evan Hansen opens in theaters on Sept. 24.
Aditi Hukerikar is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].