Dear Evan Hansen is the film adaptation of the 2015 stage musical of the same name written by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The film is directed by Stephen Chbosky, known most for directing/writing Perks of Being a Wallflower, and co-writing the 2017 Beauty and the Beast. The story centers on Evan, a 17-year-old boy that suffers from extreme social anxiety. If you haven’t seen the film and are unfamiliar with the musical, I’ll give you the warning now…SPOILERS AHEAD.
It’s Uncomfortable Because It’s Real
Just before he commits suicide, Conner Murphy signs Evan Hansen’s cast. That combined with a letter found in his pocket (that he stole) signed “Dear Evan Hansen” leads Conner’s parents to think Evan was friends with Conner. This is a big deal to them because they didn’t think Conner had any friends, and that no one saw the good in Conner as they did. Evan did not know Conner, but because he is desperate for friends, family, anyone who will see the good in him, he pretends that he and Conner were best friends. This sets up the drama that drives the whole movie. Evan is then seen by his peers as he brings awareness to Conner, he gets the girl, the family basically accepts him as their own…all by exploiting this misunderstanding for his own advantage.
The film doesn’t sugar-coat the reality of depression and anxiety. It clearly aims to disarm the stigma that it isn’t ok to be not ok. It aims to tell young people that they don’t have to hide and pretend they are all put together. I love that. It highlights the toxicity of the internet and social media by showing how quick people are to turn from supporting the Murphy family to completely trashing them based on a note that is released on the internet. It’s really true that social media can be a source of tons of hate, shame, and perceived worth if you let it.
Currently, Dear Evan Hansen has a 33% Critic Score on Rotten Tomatoes. I read through a lot of the reviews and it seems there are basically two things that irked many critics:
- The Casting of Ben Platt as Evan Hansen- As many of you know, Ben was the original Evan Hansen on Broadway. He is also 28 years old now and the son of the movie’s producer Marc Platt. Many people thought a younger guy should’ve been cast and claim nepotism for Ben being cast. After seeing the movie, even though Evan did seem a bit old, it was not distracting to me and it is abundantly clear that Ben put his entire heart and soul into the film and for that I solute him.
- The Rotten Core of the Plot- Let’s face it, Evan does something awful in exploiting a boy’s suicide for his own personal gain. He takes it farther and further and has many opportunities to come clean, but doesn’t until he almost has to. Many of these critics felt themselves turn on Evan, and once you don’t feel for the lead character anymore the rest of the experience goes downhill.
Forgiving Evan Hansen
This is the biggest question for the audience: Can we forgive Evan Hansen for what he did? I come from a faith background and have a clear understanding of how much in my life I have been forgiven, so it is easier from my perspective to forgive Evan. Especially because get a clear picture of Evan’s good heart throughout. Having the ability to forgive Evan makes this film a far more touching and enjoyable experience.
If I can be real for a second….
The people who watch and decide to hate Evan instead of forgiving him are probably the same ones who would quickly jump onto the internet to express hate for anyone whose brokenness is suddenly made public. Many of those same people have plenty of brokenness they are working very hard to keep away from the public eye. Here is a critic review from someone I will leave anonymous:
“Let’s face it, Evan Hansen is actually a hateful, self-serving character who becomes a phony symbol of peace, tolerance and compassion by using others for his own gain.”
This is what I would probably think if I had no concept of my own brokenness and need for forgiveness. The reason we are quick to hate on Evan’s actions is because of how real they are and how uncomfortable it makes us feel that we could easily do something just as rotten in our own lives to gain something we so deeply desire. The story of Evan Hansen is about more than just depression awareness, it is about coming to terms with the brokenness in our lives and realizing that we are not alone and we are still loved even through the brokenness. There is a beautiful moment at the end of the film where Evan is explaining all the lies and deception to his mom and he literally says something like, “If you only knew how broken I am..” and his mom says, “I know you, and I love you.” That is a powerful thing for a human being to hear.
I have always loved the music of Dear Evan Hansen, and that is no different with the film version. There are some things from the stage-play that translate a little awkwardly to the big screen, but in general I think this is an extremely powerful film about real things that are important. I challenge people to go into their viewing not with a mindset that sets themself above the actions of Evan and is quick to look down and judge them from a pedestal. Allow yourself to sink into the position of Evan by thinking about or own brokenness. It is uncomfortable because we’d all love to believe we’d never do something like that…but it is uncomfortable because it’s real. Go in with that perspective and Dear Evan Hansen will be a very powerful and emotional experience for you. It was for me.