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Film Review: Why Dear Evan Hansen the Movie Left Me Feeling Underwhelmed

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the book, movie, and Broadway musical versions of Dear Evan Hansen!

When I first watched the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen in Toronto in 2019, I was absolutely blown away by the detail in the production, the talent of the cast, and the excellent musical composition. I’m a huge fan of musicals in general, and I tend to be rather picky and opinionated when selecting my favourites. While DEH the musical has its flaws, it still lands in my top three all-time favourite musicals. Needless to say, I had pretty high expectations for the film. 

Musicals being adapted into movies can definitely be hit or miss. This is because scripts written for the stage almost never translate well onto the screen since the original playwrights and musical composers aren’t necessarily writing the plot with the goal of it being filmed. Some examples of issues that come up in these musical-to-movie adaptations are weird plotline pacing, questionable casting choices, and rushed or confusing endings. All three of these problems are extremely evident in DEH the movie.

This doesn’t happen all the time, though. In my opinion, some musical-to-movie adaptations that are fantastic are Hairspray and Mamma Mia!, both of which respect the boundaries of being on screen yet maintaining the overall production of the plot. Others, like In the Heights and Les Misérables, do a good job of casting or musical composition, but fall short in things like pace.

Unfortunately, after seeing Dear Evan Hansen in theatres today, it was easy to pick out all the areas where the film fell short, which far outweigh the areas where it did well.

The Casting

First things first: I don’t care about the controversy of Ben Platt being “too old” to play Evan. Sure, it’s a little jarring to see a 27-year-old play a character ten years younger than him, but I don’t think that’s what’s important. What I do care about is how Platt had insisted that because he was the one who originally developed the character for Broadway, the movie would likely not have been made, according to People magazine. 

While I don’t know the logistics of this claim, I do know that Platt wasn’t the only person who could’ve played Evan with passion and integrity. Prior to the cast for this film being announced, my personal favourites for Evan were Ben Levi Ross (who also happens to narrate the DEH audiobook) and Andrew Barth Feldman, both of whom have a more realistic high school age look and also played Evan on Broadway. Regardless, there’s no question that Platt did an incredible job of portraying Evan on stage, but I think it’s fair to suggest alternatives for the role on screen that might’ve done a more convincing job. 

As for the rest of the film’s cast, I have no issues. Colton Ryan, who plays Connor, also played Connor on stage at one point and his portrayal on both was phenomenal. Not to mention the amazing Amy Adams and Amandla Stenberg were (unsurprisingly) incredible, and the addition of Danny Pino as the step-dad was a great touch. I think the only cast member I was initially hesitant about was Kaitlyn Dever, who played Zoe, but only because I knew she hadn’t had prior musical experience. But I was pleasantly surprised when her vocal talent shone brightly and her portrayal was extremely dedicated and genuine. 

The Songs 

All of the vocals from the film were stellar, and I was happy to hear Amy Adams’ voice as I happen to be a diehard Enchanted fan. One thing to note is that a few of the songs that were crucial to the development of the plot (and also happen to be my favourites) were disappointingly cut from the movie. “Anybody Have a Map?,” a song from the beginning of the musical, aims to briefly show Connor’s relationship with his family and also the contrasting lives and similar challenges between the moms of the show. Because this song was cut, the movie suffered for it, leaving the audience with gaps in Connor’s character and a lack of background information on how the moms were addressing their respective sons’ issues. 

Another cut song, “Good For You,” is used in the musical to show how Evan’s lie gradually starts to impact his relationships, and it’s also an important device for showing the difference in privilege between the Hansen family and the Murphy family after Evan’s mom declines the Murphys’ offer to pay Evan’s college tuition. Again, because this song was scrapped, the poignancy of the scene falters and it doesn’t drive home the same emotional effect for the audience. 

Some songs from the film I liked were “Requiem,” “If I Could Tell Her,” and “So Big / So Small,” all of which were very emotionally charged and did a good job of humanizing the characters as they did in the musical. One of the new songs that were added, Amandla Stenberg’s solo “The Anonymous Ones,” was actually a lot better than I thought it would be, and I found myself enjoying its addition to the movie. In fact, it was one of the few parts of the film that made up for gaps in the musical, and I found myself wishing that this song had been included in the Broadway show. 

Overall, the songs in the film were great, but the ones that didn’t make an appearance definitely impacted the value of the plot. Personally, I’ll be sticking to the Broadway soundtrack. 

The Execution

The pacing of the musical definitely did not translate well on screen, to say the least. Evan and Zoe’s brief romance, for instance, felt extremely unnatural and forced, and made the audience go, “Wait, where did that come from?”

On stage, this relationship feels a lot more believable within the context of the musical, and Evan and Zoe have more opportunities to show their chemistry. Furthermore, the director’s choice in splicing certain scenes together made it feel like tons of dialogue was cut out, leaving holes in the plot for the audience to try and fill in themselves. This is never a good thing for movie musicals. 

Another issue with the film’s execution was its underwhelming portrayal of scenes during key plot points. “Waving Through a Window” at the beginning of the film fails to fully immerse you in Evan’s mind and takes little risks in expressing Evan’s anxiety, playing more into the “dorky loser” high school stereotype than anything else. Moreover, “For Forever” could’ve integrated more of Connor’s character in its scenes to strengthen his fictionalized relationship with Evan. Overall, there were far too many areas in which I struggled to buy into the plot, and it made me feel disconnected from the story.

One of the few redeeming scenes from the movie was when Danny Pino’s character emotionally breaks down during “You Will Be Found,” which I thought was a very meaningful and tear-jerking way of showcasing the impact of Connor’s death on his family. Seeing Pino try to keep a stoic face while marching through his office but then sobbing into Amy Adams’ arms really tugged my heartstrings! I think integrating more heart-wrenching moments like this into the plot would’ve made this movie much more memorable and engaging for viewers.

The Ending

One of the major criticisms of DEH, in general, is how Evan essentially has no consequences for the way he treated a grieving family. This is an extremely fair and valid argument given the gravity of his actions and how he seems to simply be forgiven and everyone moves on. This point holds true in the movie as well, and while it gives the film a bit of an unsatisfying ending, it’s no different than the book or musical. I do appreciate, however, that the film follows the ending of the book a lot more closely than the musical. This actually provides a bit more insight into Connor’s life and helps us understand who Connor is more. 

All in all, Dear Evan Hansen is an incredible musical and I recommend seeing it on stage to anyone and everyone. The experience of seeing it live captures the story in a completely different light and will undoubtedly give you a well-rounded and deep understanding of the characters, plot, and production. I also recommend the book, which allows the character development to grow more organically.

That being said, while the movie has its highs, its many lows give it a 2 out of 5 stars in my opinion. So, if you’re considering having a movie musical marathon, perhaps you’d be better off leaving out Dear Evan Hansen.

Rianna Lim

Carleton '23

Rianna Lim is a journalism and political science double major at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She is a Her Campus National Writer and the 2021-22 Senior Editor for Her Campus at Carleton (and loving it!). She is a passionate reader, London fog lover, and baseball fan. Be sure to send her your book recommendations and follow her on Instagram @riannaway!
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